Allevity Blog

The Commute Counts: What California Employers Need to Know About Travel Pay

May 16, 2018

There are plenty of employees who relish the opportunity to travel for work. Getting away from the norm and seeing or doing something new can actually be an enjoyable benefit to many jobs, which is good, because there are also plenty of careers that require this kind of deviation from the typical work location.

However, whenever an employee is working away from their standard place of business, the question of how to compensate for travel time becomes important to consider. Because it turns out, employees still want to be compensated for their time – and failing to do so in accordance with California wage and hour laws can land your company with some hefty fines. 

Overnight Travel

As is often the case, California actually provides more for employees in terms of overnight travel than federal law requires. According to federal law, if an employee is traveling as a passenger (for instance, on a plane) during normal working hours – that time is compensable. But if that travel as a passenger is occurring outside of normal working hours, the employee does not have to be compensated for that time. 

However, under California law, the only distinction is whether the employee is subject to the control of the employer. Meaning if you, the employer, has arranged and directed this trip, the travel time is compensable no matter when it occurs. 

The good news is, you are not required to compensate employees while they are away on work travel for time spent sleeping, eating or engaging in leisurely personal activities.

Alternate Work Sites

There may be occasions when employees are required to work from alternative work sites, but are you required to pay them for the travel to those new locations? The answer to that question can get a little tricky, as the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has never directly addressed this situation. However, it can be deduced by other situations the DLSE has addressed that if the commute is comparable to the typical work commute – that travel time is not compensable. Otherwise, an employer should plan on compensating employees for any travel time that exceeds the regular commute they may have otherwise made on a typical work day. 

Split Shift Premiums

If your schedules are arranged such that an employee has several non-work hours scheduled in between their typical daily work shifts, you are required to pay a split shift premium of one hours wage for the travel time that occurs between shifts. An example of this would be a schedule that requires an employee to work from 8 to 11 in the morning and then again from 2 to 5 in the afternoon.  

The Word of Employees

When it comes to travel time reporting, employers are expected to take their employees word in regards to time spent traveling. If an employer believes an employee may be falsely reporting their travel time, an investigation may be launched but reported travel time still needs to be paid until the point when abuse has been officially identified. 

The Final Say

It’s important to remember that if your employees are working away from the office, there is a good chance you may be responsible for compensating their travel time, even if you are sending them to some exotic destination to work on the beach for a week. Keep that in mind when your staff starts pestering you to send them to an out of town seminar or insists that working offsite for the week is imperative. But also remember that travel time can be a good motivator for some employees, and getting out of the office every once in a while can be good for everyone!

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