Understanding travel time
On Prevailing wage jobs, travel time is often ‘compensable’ time. This means that a worker should be compensated or paid for the time traveled from a designated location to the public works project. Unpaid travel time can be a prevailing wage violation.
To know if you are being fairly compensated for your travel time, it is important to understand your rights under prevailing wage law.
Prevailing wage rate and travel
Proper prevailing rate for travel
If the employee is an Operator on the project and travels from the company yard to the project to operate a piece of heavy equipment then the Operator rate will be the rate the employee should be paid for the travel from the yard to the project site. Similarly, if a worker is required to transport materials from a separate location to a public works site, that worker must be compensated for the travel time.
No special wage rates for travel
Often employers will pay a travel rate, a basic rate or even the federal minimum wage rate for time spent traveling. In most cases this is a violation of the prevailing wage law and the employee is owed the difference in wages not paid. The appropriate prevailing wage rate is the minimum wage rate an employee can be paid for their time on a public works project.
Note that when a worker travels from home to a job without stopping at the yard or at a location designated by the employer it may not be compensable travel time. IF the employee is free to leave early and make stops as they determine just so long as they arrive at work on time, the employee is not in this case under the direction and control of the employer
Compensable travel time
The Portal-to-Portal Act is sometimes used improperly to justify not compensating workers for travel time. Employees who are required to transit from one location to another as part of their employment must be compensated for that time. For example, if workers are required to meet at a specified time to ride-share to a job site, the time during the rideshare must be considered work time. The worker must be paid for this compulsory travel time specifically when they are under the direction and control of their employer.
Types of compensable travel time
Pay for travel from yard to site
For example if an employee has to report to the company yard at 6:30am and then loads a truck and travels to the public work project site and arrives at the public work site at 7:30am, the one hour spent traveling under the direction and control of the employer to the prevailing wage job site is compensable time and must be paid at the prevailing wage rate classification for the type of work performed by the employee on that project.
Pay for travel between public work projects
This is also the case when traveling between multiple public work projects during the day or returning to the yard after working on a public works project. In most cases the time should be paid at the prevailing wage rate. There are exceptions but they are few and far between. A good rule is if the employee is under the direction and control of the employer during the travel time it may be compensable.
Work during travel time
Even if travel time is simply commute time—which is not compensable—there may be situations where wages are due. For example, if the employer requires the worker to do work during their commute, the commute time may be considered part of the hours worked. Or if the worker is given a special assignment that requires travel to another city, that travel time from home may be considered work time.
Prevailing wage manual travel and subsistence requirements
The 2013 Prevailing Wage Manual published by the DIR addresses Travel and Subsistence Requirements in section 4.1.1 which reads in part:
“Travel and Subsistence Requirements"
Labor Code § 1773.1 includes within its definition of “per diem wages” both “travel” and “subsistence” payments in the Director’s determination of the applicable prevailing wages due for a particular type of work. Historically, the amounts required for either travel or subsistence are fixed daily amounts due to workers whenever the terms of a collective bargaining agreement are adopted by the Director as setting forth the prevailing wage rates in a particular locality. These fixed amounts are not specifically set forth in any of the Director’s published wage determinations, but are only noted in footnotes appearing on the wage determinations. The footnote language appears in bold on each affected determination under the heading: “TRAVEL AND/OR SUBSISTENCE PAYMENT.” The text below the footnote directs the reader to the DIR website to obtain the travel and subsistence requirements, and the fixed daily amounts if the requirements are met. There is little uniformity among the requirements found in the OPRL’s posted collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provisions, and contractors must verify the provisions in each case to determine when and under what circumstances travel and/or subsistence payments may be required. The requirements differ among classifications, but are usually based on the distance a worker must travel from a designated location to the public work jobsite. The fixed daily amount also differs among classifications. SPECIAL NOTE: Compensable travel time is distinct from travel and/or subsistence payments. Compensable travel time is included in the calculation of hours worked. Travel and/or subsistence payments are a separate and distinct obligation of public works contractors if the conditions set forth in the CBA are adopted by the Director to apply to work on a public works project.”—Page 30 and 31 May 2013 Public Works Manual by Division of Labor Standards Enforcement
Has your employer withheld your travel time pay?
Unpaid travel time is a prevailing wage violation. If your employer has under paid you or not paid you for travel, the law has been broken.
If you think your travel hours have gone unpaid, protect your rights! Contact Donahoo & Associates, PC today for a confidential discussion and analysis of your travel hours and the wage you should be paid.