Earlier this month the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a new opinion letter providing clarity on the issue of when an employee’s travel time is compensable.  DOL opinion letters are official policy statements upon which employers may rely when faced with wage and hour challenges or litigation.  Although such letters are only intended as guidance on the specific facts presented, they usually contain general principals on the issue at hand that may be applied to similar workplace scenarios.

The new opinion letter restates that rule that time spent commuting to and from work is not compensable work time, even when the employee is using a company car and/or the work location varies.  Likewise, travel between a hotel and a worksite is ordinarily not compensable, as it is akin to ordinary home-to-work travel.  However, time spent traveling between job sites or engaging in other work-related travel during “normal work hours” must be counted as hours worked, as the employee is “simply substituting travel for other duties.”  This rule not only applies to normal hours during a work week, but also to weekend travel that cuts across normal work hours.

For employees who do not work a set schedule, determining “normal work hours” can be challenging.  In such scenarios, the DOL provides three alternate methods of determination: (1) First, review the employee’s time records during the most recent month of employment; (2) If such review does not reveal predictable work patterns, average the start and end times for the employee’s work days; (3) If the first two methods do not settle the issue, negotiate with the employee to agree upon on a reasonable time frame in which travel time is compensable.  The most significant takeaway from the new DOL opinion letter is that an employer using any of these three methods to determine normal work hours is entitled to limit compensable travel time only to travel that occurs during those hours.