Travel Time: Paid vs. Unpaid

Think of all the driving that your employee may do in a day. Driving to work, running errands, jobs or maybe training attended out of town, … Which in all these situations are employers required to pay as travel time?!

There are 4 different categories of travel time:
  • Portal-to-portal
  • Travel between work sites
  • Special one-day assignments
  • Overnight travel

Portal-to-Portal Travel

Portal-to-portal travel consists of an employee´s normal home-to-work and work-to-home travel at the beginning and end of a single work day.
Both the federal Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 and Oregon law state that normal home-to-work and work-to-home travel need not be compensated.
Unless the employer has created a policy or contract promising pay for such travel – which is very rare.

Travel Between Work Sites

A second category of employee travel is travel within a single day between multiple work sites.
If the employee must travel to accomplish the day´s work then the employer is required to pay for this travel time. Examples include landscape maintenance employees, construction employees or appliance repair persons who travel from site to site during the day.
Q. If an employer allows an employee to take a company vehicle home, does the employer have to pay for travel time from home to the job site and vice versa?
A. No, as long as the employee performs no work duties until reaching the first work site. This is considered normal home-to-work/work-to-home travel, and the time need not be compensated.
Q. If I require my employee to stop at one location at the beginning of the work day to receive instructions or to pick up tools or a company vehicle before reporting to the actual work site, do I have to pay any of the travel time?
A. Yes. The travel from the employee´s home to the first location need not be compensated, since it falls under the portal-to-portal rule. But once the employee arrives at the first required location, the employee is “on the clock” and the subsequent travel time is compensable.

Special, One-Day Assignments

The “special one-day assignment” rule applies when an employer requires an employee who usually works at one location to report for a day to an alternate work site in a city over 30 miles away.
Q. I sent an employee from my Portland office to train new-hires at our Salem branch. The employee did not stay overnight in Salem and returned home the same day. Must I pay for the travel time?
A. Yes. Because the one-day assignment was to a city beyond a 30-mile radius of the employee´s official work station, the travel time involved is compensable.
Q. My employee frequently works at different locations and does not have a fixed official work station. Do I have to pay her time when she travels more than 30 miles to a work site?
A. No. The “special one-day assignment” rule applies only when an employee has a fixed official work location. Your employee´s travel time thus falls under the portal-to-portal rule and need not be compensated, even when she travels to remote locations for the day.

Overnight Travel

The “overnight travel” category applies whenever travel keeps an employee away from the home community overnight.
On overnight trips, all the time an employee spends traveling during normal work hours must be compensated — even on weekends.
An employer is not legally obligated to compensate for travel time that falls outside of the employee´s regular work hours, except when the employee is required to drive.
A good example from the BOLI website is – An employee’s regular work schedule is 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The employer sends the employee from Portland to a work-related weekend convention in Chicago on a Friday night “red-eye” flight from midnight to 5:00 a.m. Since the employee is traveling as a passenger outside of normal work hours, the employer need not pay for any of the travel time.Another example would be if an employee’s work schedule is 8:00 to 5:00. They employer has arranged for the employee’s to travel as passengers on a bus to the convention in another city several hours away. They Bus leaves at 6pm and they would arrive at 9pm. But one employee CHOOSES to drive their own vehicle instead. The employer may choose to pay the employee for the time spent driving their car but the employer is not legally obligated to pay this travel time because they were offered transportation as a passenger and they were not required to drive and the travel time was outside of they normal work hours.

Other Common Travel Questions

  • Per diem expenses
  • Travel pay rate
  • Overtime
Q. Is an employer obligated under wage and hour laws to pay employees for per diem expenses (hotel, restaurants, mileage, etc.)?
A. Generally, no. But an employer must cover per diem expenses when requiring the employee to pay them would have the effect of bringing the employee below minimum wage for the pay period. (Minimum wage employees may never be required to pay per diem expenses.)
Q. If the employer does pay per diem and/or mileage to employees, must the employer still pay for travel time?
A. Yes, the regular travel rules still apply.
Q. Does the employer have to pay travel time when the employer arranges for a company vehicle to pick up employees and deliver them to the job site?
A.If employees are using such a service for their own convenience and are not required to travel in the company vehicle, this is still considered normal home-to-work/work-to-home travel. The driver of the company vehicle is the only person actually performing work and therefore the only employee to whom travel time pay is due. An example of this would be in in construction or landscaping, sometimes the foreman will offer to pick up some of the labor workers if they live near by.
Q. May the employer pay a different rate for travel time than for hours worked at the employee´s regular rate?
A. Yes, as long as the employer pays at least minimum wage for all hours worked. If an employer intends to pay travel time at a rate lower than the regular hourly rate, the employer should clearly advise employees of the policy in advance.
Q. Do compensable travel hours have to be included when calculating overtime?
A. Yes. Compensable travel hours must be counted for purposes of calculating whether an employee has performed more than 40 hours of work in a single workweek.

Amanda Poe