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DOL Opinion Letter On Travel Time Compensability

Hands of business man writing on paper

The FLSA is a set of federal laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, and other important workplace practices. The rules aren’t always easy to understand, however, and sometimes they get misinterpreted by business owners and even by the courts. (As an example, the supreme court recently had to step in and give the final word on a type of overtime exemption.) This is why the Department of Labor has provided opinion letters to help clarify some of the more confusing scenarios.

What’s An Opinion Letter?

The DOL’s opinion letters have always been a great resource for interpreting FLSA laws. In the letters, the DOL answers actual questions about real business cases. These letters help other businesses understand how the laws might apply to them if they have a similar situation.

DOL Stops Responding to Opinion Letters

As useful as they are, the DOL stopped issuing opinion letters in 2010 under the Obama administration. Now they’re back and, last week, they issued three. One of those is relevant to us here and regards a topic we often write about: Travel time.

April 12th Opinion Letter

The letter, Opinion Letter FLSA2018-18, follows a very specific case about travel time for this anonymous company’s technicians. While most business owners don’t have exactly the same situation, it’s easy to see how travel time laws translate to other scenarios.

Commuting is not compensable

This letter confirms the fact that commute time – i.e. travel from home to work – is not compensable. While this may seem obvious as stated, it often vexes employers whose employees drive from location to location throughout the day. The question is, do you have to pay employees for the drive to the first location when that location often varies from day to day. In this letter, the employee may drive anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour. The DOL responded that, in fact, no, the employer does not have to pay employees for this time as it is considered a commute. The time traveling between worksites throughout the day, however, is considered work time and must be paid.

The plot thickens

The example gets a little more interesting, though, with the addition of a company-provided vehicle. Since the employee is driving a company vehicle, does that change the fact that the employee is commuting? The answer is no. Even though the employee drives  a company vehicle from home to the worksite, the commute is still a commute and is not compensable.

Opinion Letters Offer Clarity

Sometimes business owners worry that the FLSA may or may not apply in their unique situation. In this letter, the person asking was concerned that having their employees start their days in a company vehicle might mean that employees were considered on the job as soon as they got in the vehicle. The DOL confirmed this is not the case.

Without some clarification on questions like these, businesses might be tempted to over-pay their employees. A lawsuit would surely be worse. This is where opinion letters can really help.

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