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Time is money. But with American workers spending more and more time commuting to and from work, when is an employer required to pay for an employee's commute time?
In general, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act controls issues regarding wages and hours, and describes which commute situations must be compensated as "work time."
So when would an employer be on the hook for commuting time? Here are some general guidelines:
Commuting Between Home and Work
In general, time spent commuting between an employee's home and the work site is not considered "hours worked" under the FLSA.
There are exceptions, however, when an employer requires an employee to perform work-related duties while commuting -- for example, to pick up work supplies en route to work. In that case, an employee is "on the clock" when she begins her first work-related duty (i.e., picks up the supplies), and remains on the clock until she completes her last work-related duty.
Commuting in a Company Vehicle
In general, if an employer provides a vehicle for a worker's use, the worker will not be paid for her commute time under the FLSA.
However, if the vehicle is not of a type normally used for commuting, or forces a worker to use a different route (due to the vehicle's size or weight) or incur costs (like parking or maintenance), commute time may indeed be considered work time.
Using a work vehicle to commute from outside the employer's "normal commuting area" (which is determined by a variety of factors, not a set value) and lack of a prior agreement about using the vehicle for commuting also suggest an employee should be paid for commute time.
The U.S. Department of Labor has an interactive online tool to help determine when an employee should be paid for commuting time. You may also want to consult an employment attorney to make sure your actions steer clear of breaking any laws.