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This is another post in a Q-&-A format written to educate employees and employers on the issue whether work related travel time from home to a distant job site is compensable. 

Hypothetical Legal Problem: 

I work as a mover for a company that often requires me to drive to job sites located unusually far from my home and unusually far from the area where I typically work. For example, most of the job sites are located in San Francisco and nearby areas (e.g. Daly City, Emeryville, and Oakland). However, yesterday, I had to drive 40 minutes to Palo Alto from San Francisco and I was not compensated for this time. Is this legal?

 Short Answer: 

The short answer is that this practice is unlawful and the employee should be compensated for most of his travel time from San Francisco to Palo Alto.

General Rule:

As a general rule, an employer is not required to pay for travel time to employees who travel reasonable distances to job sites on a daily basis. However, if the company requires the employee to travel to a distant work site, the time is compensable. So whether the employer is required to pay for travel time from home to a job site really depends on how the job site is located.

 Applicable Law:

In determining whether an employee needs to be paid for travel time from his home to a job site California courts and the Labor Commissioner (“DLSE”) distinguish between “travel that the employer specifically compels and controls…and an ordinary commute that employees take on their own.” Morillion v. Royal Packing, 22 Cal.4th 575, 587 (Cal. 2000).

So what is the difference between “compulsory” travel time and “an ordinary commute”? The DLSE has taken the position that travel involving a substantial distance from the assigned work place to a distant work site to report to work on a short-term basis is compensable travel time.

How much of such travel time is compensable? The answer is that the compensable travel time is measured by the difference between (1) the time it normally takes the employee to travel from his or her home to the assigned work place and (2) the time it takes the employee to travel from home to the distant work site.

In this specific example, because the nature of the moving industry, the employee is not typically assigned to a specific workplace. Therefore, the employee has a reasonable expectation that he will be routinely required to travel reasonable distances to job sites on a daily basis in San Francisco.  So for example, if the company’s office is located in Downtown San Francisco and all moving sites are typically located 2-3 miles away from the office. The time the mover spends traveling 2-3 miles should be considered ordinary non-compensable travel time. However, when the mover is required to drive from his home directly to a job site located in Palo Alto, which is located 33 miles from San Francisco, part of his commute should be considered compensable travel time. The difference between ordinary commute of 3 miles and 33-mile travel time to Palo Alto is 30 miles. Therefore, the employer has to pay the mover for time it takes to travel 30 miles.

This is just one of many examples, when work related travel time is compensable.  Analogously, any travel time between different job sites is always compensable.  Also, if an employee is required to report to the employer’s business  premises before proceeding to an off-premises work site, all of the time from the moment of reporting until the employee is released to proceed directly to his or her home is time subject to the control of the employer, and constitutes compensable  hours worked. (O.L. 1994.02.16; Morillion v. Royal Packing Co. 22 Cal.4th 575, (Cal. 2000)

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