The DOL Revisits Compensable Travel Time

In November, the DOL released a few opinion letters answering questions related to employee continuing education (reviewed in “Is Training Time Paid? DOL Reiterates Standard Position”) and ongoing questions involving employee travel times. Travel time can be a complex issue to assess, particularly given that many employees mix business and pleasure while they are traveling.

The letter addresses a construction company’s concerns. The company had multiple job sites with a primarily non-exempt workforce. Trucks were maintained at the principal place of business and for local work, the employee came first to the main office to obtain a truck and then drove the work truck to a job site. The work truck was returned to the place of business on a daily basis.

Local job sites

Not surprisingly, if an employee is required to come first to the main business office, pick up a vehicle, and then travel to a job site, the time spent between moving from the main business office to the job site was considered compensable time. This is clearly in line with prior DOL opinions and regulations relating to the Portal-to-Portal Act.

In some instances, laborers who do not require a company truck may drive directly to the local job site. Again, in conformance with prior opinions relating to the Portal-to-Portal Act, travel from the employee’s home to a job site, even if that jobsite may differ on a day-to-day basis, is considered a normal commuting time and is not compensable. Even if employees chose to congregate at a different site in order to carpool, the time to that particular site and then to the job site are all considered to be a regular commute.

This would be different if the employer required the employee to report to a place for transportation. This could occur if an employer was limiting vehicles on a job site, so it had them park 20 miles away and then transported them. The time between parking and the job site in that scenario is likely paid time.

Remote job sites

A second set of scenarios involve truly remote job sites where travel away from home is required. In this instance, laborers traveled from their hotel to a job site and this time was considered to be commute or normal home to work travel which is not compensable.

The DOL draws a distinction between the person driving to a remote site and their passengers.

Initial transportation to the remote site and the hotel was considered to be compensable time if that time, “cuts across their normal work hours” even on a nonwork day for the employee driving the vehicle.

Passengers, however, have a different standard. The DOL indicates, “if the laborers are traveling to the remote job site as passengers outside of their normal working hours, WHD would not consider their time compensable.” If the laborers are traveling to the remote job site during their normal working hours, even if not on normal workdays, their time would be compensable.

Note that there is a difference between the original travel, which brings the employee to a remote worksite where he or she may be staying (possibly compensable), and the day-to-day travel once someone is at a remote site. Time spent going from wherever they are staying to the work location is typically not compensable.

Chooses to travel

Another scenario would be an employee who chooses not to stay overnight or in a hotel at remote job sites but to commute to the remote job site on a daily basis from their home. That commute, even though potentially significantly longer than the employee’s regular commute, is not considered to be compensable time.

Jo Ellen Whitney is an employment and labor law attorney at the Davis Brown Law Firm. She is known for her approachable demeanor and practical approach to employment law and is described as “top notch” by clients. Contact her at 515-246-7993 or