Post image for Travel Time, Waiting Time, and Training Time:  3 Wage & Hour Landmines for Unsuspecting Employers

Travel Time, Waiting Time, and Training Time: 3 Wage & Hour Landmines for Unsuspecting Employers

by on January 25, 2014

Managing overtime properly can be quite a daunting task for many managers who may not be aware of some of the intricacies and traps that await them within this specific area of wage and hour administration. If you’ve ever been confused about whether you have to pay an overtime premium to nonexempt employees who fly on company business or whether you’re on the hook when they attend training workshops after hours, then read on – You’re not the only one! There are a number of interesting twists and turns in this particular area of employment law, and you can’t be armed well enough in terms of protecting your company from class action wage and hour liability.

timemanagegraphicAs a reminder, “nonexempt” workers are covered by the protections afforded under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, the federal wage and hour law enacted to regulate minimum wage and overtime pay, among other things. “Exempt” workers are “exempt” from the protections under the FLSA, so the information below won’t pertain to them. But your nonexempt (AKA “hourly”) employees have a series of protections regarding overtime pay and other meal penalties, and the three categories that follow often trip employers up in terms of administering their wage and hour policies correctly.

Managing overtime can get tricky, but remaining aware of these out-of-the-norm practices will help you comply with and successfully navigate through this complicated area of employment law.

Travel Time

Ordinary travel time to and from work is not considered work time, regardless of the distance or time required to get to the office every morning. However, inter-company travel from one work location to another is indeed considered work time. So you have to pay nonexempt workers when they drive from Facility A to Facility B on company business – In other words, you can’t have them swipe out and drive between facilities “off the clock.”

Okay, that’s easy enough, but what about long-distance travel for hourly employees? If a nonexempt administrative assistant accompanies his boss on a cross-country trip, then the overtime calculations can become quite complicated. For example, if they fly together from Boston to Chicago on a Monday during normal business hours (i.e., 8 – 5), then those travel hours would count as ordinary, compensable work time. (In other words, you wouldn’t take the admin off the clock and not pay him for the day’s work while he’s flying on company business. He should be paid for that time because he’s flying on company business during normal working hours.)

Waiting Time

Now let’s take our example a bit further . . . If they land and arrive at the hotel at 5 PM, unpack, freshen up, and then meet for dinner from 6:00 – 8:00, then those three hours would typically not be considered work time for the nonexempt administrative assistant, assuming the dinner isn’t mandatory. After all, even though he’s on the road and on company business with his boss, he’d still need to eat and sleep just as if he were at home. Therefore, that meal and shower before dinner wouldn’t be considered compensable time under most states’ wage and hour rules. (Ditto for when he goes to bed that night – sleeping in a hotel isn’t compensable time.)

However, if he had to then attend a mandatory business meeting with clients from 8:00 – 10:00 that night, then those two additional work hours would count as compensable work time and would either trigger daily overtime of two hours (in states that recognize daily overtime thresholds) or count toward the 40-hour workweek, which will probably trigger overtime payments at the end of the week.

So here’s your “waiting time” rule of thumb: In general, your company isn’t responsible for counting waiting time as compensable work time if the employee is free to do other things during that time period (which is the case here since the dinner wasn’t mandatory). In comparison, if you require your employees to attend a client dinner or wait by the phone (for example, to monitor security alarms or await customer service calls from home), then they are technically being ‘paid to wait,’ and that is indeed considered compensable time.

Training Time

What about training time after hours – Does training trigger overtime payment obligations? As you might guess, the answer to that question will depend on whether the training is mandatory. Mandatory meeting and training time is compensable work time because, while it may result in the betterment of the individual worker (in terms of skills, knowledge, and abilities), its primary focus is on the improvement of the company.

In other words, if you tell employees that they have to attend mandatory training on Monday night from 6 – 9 PM, then it will trigger either daily overtime or weekly overtime (if it pushes the overall hours worked that week above the 40-hour limit). That being said, remember that voluntary training after hours to gain additional skills or knowledge is not work time, even if job-related. So you don’t have to pay overtime to an employee who chooses to take a Monday night class at a university extension program or opts to take a course on CPR that your organization offers as a benefit.

Finally, keep in mind that training during work hours may be considered work time if it is:

  • Approved by a manager
  • Directly related to the employee’s job
  • Designed to enhance employee’s performance

Therefore, if attendance at your company’s lunch & learn or “brown bag” workshop series from noon to 1:00 is indeed mandatory, then an additional hour of overtime pay may result, since the lunch hour “break” may be deemed to be technically forfeited. Be sure and check with qualified legal counsel to determine how to handle this appropriately in your state.

Clearly, managing overtime can get tricky, but remaining aware of these out-of-the-norm practices will help you comply with and successfully navigate through this complicated area of employment law and insulate your company from the twists and turns of wage and hour liability.

workplacecover_smallSpecial Note: For further information on effectively managing the ins and outs of the FLSA and organizational wage & hour guidelines, please visit our Web Store and consider purchasing the Wage & Hour (FLA) Toolkit, a 90-page detailed summary outlining the specifics of overtime calculation, meal and rest periods, “off-the-clock” work, independent contractor caveats, recordkeeping requirements, and test and analysis templates for the five exemption categories—(1) executive, (2) administrative, (3) learned professional, (4) computer, and (5) outside sales.