Is travel time considered work time?

Do the hours business travelers spend commuting count as working time? Reader M asks…1-29-15-2

I’ve just started a new job where I will be traveling regularly. I’ll be required to account for my hours, including travel time. When I told my friend that travel time counted as work hours (and therefore, went towards overtime pay) she was really surprised. Is it typical for businesses to count transit time as work time?

Great question! At my company we aren’t required to keep track of hours but I can tell you that when someone asks me how many hours I worked last week I don’t think twice about adding in time traveling to my destination in that number.  Here’s how I see it.  Would you consider driving to another city for business as work hours?  If so, why should flying be any different?  In a car you are limited on the amount of work you can do, but air travel gives you the opportunity to work sporadically which IMO justifies counting travel time as work time even more.

I definitely make a good faith effort to check email and do other work related stuff when I travel.  However, if I’m exhausted and need to rest or read a book to relieve some stress I have no shame still counting these as work hours. I see it as a necessity to rest my body for the true reason I’m traveling: to conduct business once I’ve reached my destination.

The short answer is that I believe travel time absolutely counts as work time. Any company that requires a business traveler to be working every moment during travel or doesn’t count transit time as work hours doesn’t understand business travel.  Traveling for business is an exhausting experience.  Sure there are moments of fun like when I’m upgraded to first class, meet a new friend, or get to try out a new restaurant, but for the most part business travel is full of hard work and lots of responsibilities. So do I consider travel time as work?  Yes, yes I do!

That being said, it doesn’t matter what I think—it matters what your workplace thinks. If they don’t count travel time as work time then that’s what you have to go by. Although unless the other benefits are outstanding I’m not sure I would happy working for long at a place that has so little respect for my time….

Readers, what has your experience been? Does your company count travel time as working hours?

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  1. This is an interesting topic for me. I know my manager considers travel time as work time – with, the assumption you mentioned, that I’m checking emails and doing what I can within reason during travel.

    What became intersting for me, was that my mananger commented about away-time traveling and trying to shorten it. After doing the same trip every 2 weeks for 4 years, I kind of have it down to a science in terms of what worked best— I had 2 options:

    1) Take a red-eye to my destination on a Thursday, do all my meetings there for the full day and race to the airport to get flight back and arrive somewhere around 10pm or later (if flights are actually on-time). The reality is, I would normally get home around midnight, exhausted and brain-dead, and be quite useless all of that Friday for work.

    2) I take a late-afternoon flight in on Wednesday, get a good night sleep at the hotel and wake up ready to to all my meetings for the full day and can stay longer if needed for follow-ups. I go back to my hotel and get another good night’s sleep, work from the hotel on Friday and take an early afternoon flight and get home Friday evenings.

    After 4 years of experimenting with this, is saves my sanity and my brain-power. I explained it to my manager and I think he got the logistics. Keep in mind, I’m single without any kids — I’m sure if the situation were different that this schedule might not be as doable. But, for now, my manager knows I’m fully-functional while traveling and making the most of my office-hours time.

  2. If you are an hourly employee, travel time beyond your usual commute is legally required to be paid. My husband runs into this with plant supervisors he works with – if they are consulting at another plant, they sometimes put in half a day of paid work before they even get there, rapidly putting them into overtime.

  3. Luckily for you, employees and employers everywhere, no it doesn’t matter what you think or what your workplace thinks. There are hard rules written into federal W&H(Wage and Hour) law by the Department of Labor. Whether or not travel counts depends on whether it’s a one-day trip(in which case all travel time counts) or an over-night trip, in which case only the time traveling during normal work hours is paid. There are lots of exceptions and addendums; travel time from one worksite to another is paid time, travel back to your worksite to help out in an emergency is paid time, there are many. There is no need for a speculative article when statutory law and court cases exist on the topic:

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