The Appeals Court recently affirmed a Superior Court decision holding that employees’ daily commute to a twelve-week training program was not compensable work time under the Massachusetts regulation governing travel time.
In Taggart v. Town of Wakefield, firefighters for the town of Wakefield, Massachusetts, sought overtime pay for time spent traveling to and from a training program at the Massachusetts Fire Academy (MFA) in Stow, Massachusetts. The firefighters, most of whom lived in or around Wakefield, traveled to Stow for the duration of the program—five days per week for twelve weeks—in lieu of reporting to the fire department headquarters in Wakefield. Although the firefighters were paid for all of their training time (forty hours per week), they claimed that they were also entitled to compensation for time spent traveling to the MFA in Stow in excess of time they ordinarily spent commuting to the fire department in Wakefield.
In reviewing the Superior Court’s decision, the Appeals Court looked to a provision of the Commonwealth’s travel time regulations, which states that travel in excess of an employee’s ordinary commute is compensable, “if an employee who regularly works at a fixed location is required, for the convenience of the employer, to report to a location other than his or her regular worksite . . . .” The Appeals Court held that the firefighters’ travel to the MFA was not compensable because the MFA was not a location “other than” their regular worksite, and because the travel was not “for the convenience” of Wakefield.
The Appeals Court found that the twelve-week training program was of sufficient duration to make the MFA in Stow the firefighters’ “fixed” work location during the training period. It distinguished prior opinion letters issued by the Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety, noting that the employees at issue in those letters had been asked to travel to an alternate location for a shorter period of time—between one to five days. The Court stated that such travel requests are not equivalent to the long-term assignment at issue in Taggart.
The Appeals Court further held that the firefighters’ travel was not undertaken “for the convenience of their employer” because their attendance at the MFA program did not primarily benefit the town of Wakefield. Instead, the Court found that the firefighters benefitted equally from the program because such training was necessary for them to perform their duties safely and allowed them to earn tenure as professional firefighters.
This decision provides helpful guidance to employers whose employees must travel to off-site locations for work and provides new avenues for combating claims of unpaid travel time based on the duration of the off-site program and the benefits it confers to the participants.