EMPLOYEES MUST BE PAID FOR ALL WORK DONE BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER THEIR SHIFTS

Every employee has a core job comprised of the main duties the employee is hired to perform.  And just about every job has non-core elements that take up time and (often) seem unproductive—organizing or maintaining tools, putting on protective clothing, cleaning or picking up after work, or attending meetings. Do employees need to be compensated when they are not really working?

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Compensating Employees for Work-Related Travel To Remote Locations

Confusion often reigns when employers attempt to determine what their responsibilities are in terms of paying non-exempt employees for travel time.  When employees are on the road on behalf of the company, it can be very difficult to say what, exactly, constitutes “time worked.”  The Portal-to-Portal Act was enacted by Congress in 1947 specifically to carve out certain work-related activities for which employers would not be responsible for paying an employee. 

In general, employers are not required to pay employees for normal commuting time to and from work.  However, employers are often required to pay employees when they engage in work-related travel during the workday (i.e., travel that occurs after they begin work for their employer but before the workday ends).

A recent federal case, Kuebel v. Black & Decker [2009 WL 1401694 (W.D.N.Y.) squarely addressed the issue of compensable time for employees who travel to and from remote locations.  A retail specialist for Black & Decker whose work demanded that he travel to inspect Black & Decker displays at various Home Depot locations disputed Black & Decker’s policy of deducting one hour each way of “commuting time” from the travel time for which it compensated such workers (based on an Opinion the DOL had given Black & Decker on retail specialist travel time in 1999).

The specialist argued that his workday began not when he arrived at his first Home Depot of the day, but before he got on the road, when he began reviewing and responding to company e-mails, reviewing company sales reports and engaging in other company activities.  He further argued that his workday ended after he got home, when he finished checking the computer again for company business.

The court disagreed, noting that the homework Mr. Kuebel did for the company (for which he was compensated) could have been done at any hour of the day or night.  The fact that he chose to do the homework immediately before and after his road trips did not make his commuting time compensable.

This case falls squarely within the general rule that commuting time is not compensable. Even if employees start or end their workday at a remote location away from the employer’s main place of business, employers are generally not required to pay for the time the employee spent traveling from home to a remote location at the beginning of the workday or from a remote location back home at the end of the workday.  However, this general rule is not always so clear cut, as there are potential exceptions in which employers might be required to pay for at least some of this traveling time.