Wage Claims, Overtime & Other Employee Compensation
Should Employees be Paid for Commute Time?
(Information That Couriers, Repair Technicians, Service Reps, & Drivers Should Know)
Q: I am a repair technician and must travel from my home to the locations of my employer’s customers in order to do my job. I use the company car, which my employer tells me is my “office.” My employer is very strict about how we travel to these customer locations. We are not allowed to stop and do personal errands. We are not allowed to use our phones while driving although we must answer our phones if our company dispatcher calls to give us instructions about our job. Should I be paid for the time I spend commuting to my employer’s customer locations?
A: Ordinarily, the law does not require that employees be paid for commute time. However, California law requires that employees be compensated for all time during which an employee is subject to the control of the employer. If, during the commute time, the employee is really “subject to the control of the employer” then the employee must be paid for this commute time.
What are the situations where an employee is subject to the control of the employer during the employee’s commute time? A recent opinion by one federal appellate court addressed this issue:
Mike Rutti was a technician employed by Lojack Corporation, Inc. Lojack technicians install and repair car alarms for Lojack’s clients. Nearly all of the installations and repairs are done at the clients’ locations. Rutti was required to travel to the job-sites in a company-owned vehicle. He was paid hourly beginning when he arrived at his first job location and ending when he completes his final job installation of the day.
Rutti brought a class action on behalf of himself and all technicians employed by Lojack. Rutti sought to be compensated for the time he commuted from his home to his first job-site because at that time, he was subject to the control of his employer.
During his commute time, Rutti was required to drive the company vehicle. He could not stop for personal errands, could not take passengers, was required to drive the vehicle directly from home to his job and back, and he could not use his cell phone while driving except that he had to keep his phone turned on to answer calls from the company dispatcher. In addition, Lojack’s computerized scheduling system dictated Rutti’s first assignment of the day and the order in which he was to complete the day’s jobs. For these reasons, the Court stated that there was no denying that Rutti was under Lojack’s control while driving the Lojack vehicle en route to the first Lojack job of the day and on his way home at the end of the day.
The Court added that it is a mistake to assume that any employer-mandated travel that begins or ends at home is automatically noncompensable. This assumption ignores California law: It is the level of the employer’s control over its employees during commute time that determines whether the employee should be compensated for such time.
Was Rutti subject to the control of an employer during his mandatory travel time? The answer is Yes. Rutti was required not only to drive the Lojack vehicle to and from the job site, but he was also forbidden from attending to any persona business along the way. The Court, thus, held that because Rutti was obviously under the employer’s control in these circumstances, under California law, he was entitled to be paid for his commute time.
Aside from repair technicians like Rutti, there are other employees who travel from their homes to employer-assigned locations, using company-owned vehicles. These employees include couriers, drivers, messengers, appliance and cable technicians, and other service representatives. Their commute times may equally be subject to control as in the case of the Lojack technicians. If so, these employees may have a right to additional wages and should consult with an experienced wage and hour attorney.
© Law Offices C. Joe Sayas, Jr.