The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (DOL) has issued an opinion letter addressing compensable time spent commuting between the office and home. The opinion letter comes at a time when employers are beginning to reopen their office space or switch to hybrid, remote/in-person work schedules. In this new environment, DOL gives guidance to employers trying to calculate their workers’ hours when those workers split time between the office and home.
The opinion letter addresses two scenarios. First, the requestor presented an employee who has a parent-teacher conference from 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. She begins working at the office in the morning. She leaves the office at 1:00 p.m., drives 30 minutes to the school, meets with the teacher for 45 minutes, and then drives 30 minutes home, where she continues working.
In the second example, the employee has a doctor’s appointment from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. She begins working at home from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. She is free to perform personal activities from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., at which time she leaves for her appointment. After her appointment, she drives 15 minutes to work and continues working from there.
In both examples, the requestor asks: Is the employee’s commute time from her office to home compensable? Is the employee’s commute time between the home and personal activity, or personal activity and the office, compensable?
The opinion letter answered “No” on all fronts. That is, the Wage and Hour Division opined that the employee’s travel time in the first example, from work to the school and from school to the home, was not compensable. And in the second example, it opined the travel time from home to the doctor’s office and from the doctor’s office to work was also not compensable.
In giving its rationale, DOL acknowledged two guiding principles. On the one hand, an employee’s time is not compensable when she is “completely relieved from duty such that she can use time effectively for her own purposes.” But on the other hand, under the “continuous workday doctrine,” an employee’s time is compensable from the beginning of her principal activities until their close, even if that time includes travel between worksites. In weighing these two axioms, DOL determined that the personal activities (doctor’s appointment and parent-teacher conference) constituted time in which the employee was completely relieved from duty, meaning it was not compensable.
Based on that rationale, the DOL opinion letter provides:
When an employee arranges for her workday to be divided into a block worked at home and a block worked at the office, separated by a block reserved for the employee to use for her own purposes, the reserved time is not compensable, even if the employee uses some of that time to travel between home and office.
Maintaining accurate timekeeping and wage information with remote and hybrid employees can pose quite the challenge for employers. But DOL’s new opinion letter clarifies at least one aspect of this muddy world. When an employee splits her time between home and office, with a small portion carved out for personal activities, that time is not compensable. Knowing this, all that’s left for employers is to ensure strong channels of communication with their workers, making sure all hours are appropriately captured and paid.