TRAVEL PAY REVISITED « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Setting and Calculating Compensation for Job-Related Travel Time

A California worker recently asked how his employer should pay him for job-related travel time expended before and then after a full eight hours of labor at a remote location. He wrote: “If I drove 5-1/2 hours, then worked 8, then drove 5 more hours, wouldn’t my time and a half start on my 8th hour and then double time after my 12th hour?  They can’t just pay me double time on my travel pay rate of 8.00 dollars an hour can they?”

The answers, both favoring the worker in this instance, are “yes, daily overtime starts in California after the first eight compensable hours, including travel time” and “no, the employer cannot just calculate overtime from the lower travel-time rate of pay.”

Calculating Overtime When Work-Related Travel Paid at a Lower Rate:  Our blog article “Travel Pay in California” observes: “Hourly employees must be paid for all ‘hours worked.’   Depending on the circumstances, an employee can be considered experiencing a ‘working hour’ even when in deep unconsciousness or obnoxious intoxication in seat 36C, Flight 363 Los Angeles to New York.  Where an employee is required to travel for work, near or far, the employer must compensate the worker for that time.  Exceptions are normal commute time or road trip downtime, e.g., meals or entertainment.  Thus, an hourly worker who boards that New York flight for business is earning pay for his or her hours on the plane except the time spent taking a meal.”

That article also points out that businesses can establish a lower hourly rate of pay for unproductive but compensable travel time.  Thus, the hourly worker’s employer on the above New York flight could pay him/her minimum wage (currently $8.00/hour in California) for the transit time  and that worker’s higher, normal rate (say, $20.00/hour) for time spent working at the destination that day.  If that worker flew for five hours ($8.00/hour x 5 hours = $40.00) and then attended a conference for another three ($20.00/hr x 3 hours = $60.00), his total pay that day would be $100.00.

California is one of the few states that require premium pay for either weekly (“time-and-a-half” after 40 in a week) or daily overtime hours (“time-and-a-half” after eight hours in a day and “double time” after 12 daily hours).

As the above writer pointed out, the plot thickens considerably when a California worker works either daily or weekly overtime while earning separate hourly rates during a pay period.  It is not true that the employer need only pay 1.5x or 2x of a $8.00/hour travel rate for overtime hours ($12.00/hr and $16.00/hr, respectively) just because those were “extra” or “in addition” to the productive working hours that day.

Instead, California employers must calculate those 1.5x and 2x premium rates from the so-called “regular rate of pay.” “Regular [hourly] rate” is reached by adding up all compensation for a week and dividing it by the total number of hours worked.

Thus, if the above worker flying to New York also returned to California that same week, working a total of 50 hours, with ten of those hours at the $8.00/hour travel rate ($8.00/hr x 10 hrs. = $80.00) and the other 40 hours at the $20.00 rate ($20.00/hour x 40 hrs. = $800), his total earned compensation would of course be $880.00 for those 50 hours. Thus, the regular rate would be $17.60/hr ($880.00 ÷ 50 hrs = $17.60), making the 1.5x rate for each of the ten overtime hours $26.40.

The matter can be further complicated if, say, the worker had two very long work days that week, each exceeding 12 hours.  As above, the employee would earn 1.5x the regular rate for the each of the 9th – 12th hours worked each day and then 2x the regular rate for each daily hour worked over 12.

For help to employers on how to structure, administer or enforce a travel policy, please contact our firm’s attorneys Tim Bowles or Cindy Bamforth: