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The federal Fair Labor Standards Act generally does not require employers pay their employees for time spent traveling from home to work and work to home. However, under the “continuous work day” rule, employees must be paid for any commuting time occurring between the first and last principal activities of the day. “Principal activities” are an employee’s primary job duties. Activities are also considered “principal” if they are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities. For examples, the time slaughterhouse employees spend putting on and the time slaughterhouse employees spend putting on and removing protective clothing has been found to be a “principal activity,” as employees must wear the clothing to perform their primary job duties. The recent case of Kuebel v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 643 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 2011) dealt with a similar issue- whether administrative tasks are “principal activities” within the meaning of the continuous work day rule, so that ordinarily non-compensable travel time becomes compensable when performed in between the first and last administrative tasks of the day.
The plaintiff in Kuebel was a Retail Specialist for Black and Decker. His job duties included administrative tasks (such as responding to company emails and drafting sales reports) and traveling to stores that sell Balck and Decker products to ensure they were properly displayed, priced and stocked.The plaintiff typically started his day by performing administrative tasks from his “home office.” He then drove to his job sites. It was not uncommon for the plaintiff to visit several job sites in one day. After leaving his last job site, the plaintiff would drive home, where he performed additional administrative tasks. While the plaintiff was compensated for the time he spent performing administrative activities, he claimed he should also be compensated for the time he spent traveling from his home to his job sites and from his job sites to his home under the continuous work day rule.
The Second Circuit disagreed, holding that employers are not required to pay employees for commuting time to and from home, and that performing administrative tasks before and after travel time does not make such time compensable, even if the administrative tasks are “principal activities.” The court also noted that plaintiff could choose to perform the administrative tasks at any time during the day, and that he could not avoid wage and hour laws by performing them before and after his commute.
Properly compensating employees for travel time is one of the most complex wage and hour issues currently facing employers. Employers should have their pay practices reviewed by legal counsel to ensure compliance with federal and state law.