Spring has sprung at the Department of Labor with three new opinion letters after a nearly decade hiatus. The first is an opinion letter on travel time and responds to an employer asking for clarity on the compensability of travel time for hourly, non-exempt employees in two common situations.

1. Whether an employer must pay the travel time of a non-exempt employee who travels out-of-state on a Sunday for a training class beginning Monday morning at the corporate office, and then travels home Friday evening or Saturday once the class is over.

In this scenario, the DOL explained that this travel time may be compensable under certain circumstances (i.e., “it depends”). The DOL reiterated that non-exempt employees must be compensated for travel time away from their home community when it cuts across the employee’s normal working time – regardless of whether the employee typically works on that day (i.e., if the employee normally works 8-5 during the week, his weekend travel time between the hours of 8-5 must be compensated).

This answer begs the question: what if the employee does not have “normal” working hours for purposes of calculating compensable travel time? The DOL reviewed the number of ways an employer may ascertain an employee’s normal working hours even when the employee works odd, irregular workdays and hours. In the rare instance where an employee truly has no “normal” working hours, the DOL stated that an employer and employee may agree to a reasonable timeframe where travel outside of the employee’s home community is compensable. The takeaway on this is that, although the DOL carefully scrutinizes claims that employees do not have “normal” working hours, employers who use the methods outlined in the DOL’s regulations for calculating “normal” working hours are less likely to be cited than those who abuse the system.

2. Whether an employer must pay the travel time of a non-exempt employee who travels in an assigned company vehicle from home to the office to obtain a job itinerary, and then travels to a customer location.

In this scenario, the DOL reiterated that travel to and from work, even when the employee works at different job sites, is not compensable. The fact that the travel is in an assigned company vehicle is immaterial. Travel between job sites and travel from the office to the job site is compensable (even if the stop at the office was just to pick up the day’s itinerary).

This opinion letter should prompt employers to revisit their travel time compensation practices. Reconsider each non-exempt employee’s normal working hours for purposes of calculating overtime, as well as your company’s pay practices for mid-shift travel time. Be sure you can support the method used for calculating an employee’s normal working hours during your next DOL audit or investigation.

Tomorrow, we will highlight the DOL’s opinion letter on the compensability of break times required as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.