A Guide to California Workers' Commute Compensation In A Post-Pandemic World

The pandemic brought many changes to California's workplace landscape. From how employers compensate employees, to new policies on sick leaves, to increased hybrid and remote working, both employers and employees are contending with the many practical and legal transitions.

With all this happening, where do California workers' commute compensation policies stand? Have the commute compensation policies changed, or do the rules remain pretty much the same?

Compensating workers' commute time in California is not a black and white situation. There are many gray areas, and each worker and situation is entitled to different compensation policies. However, if not properly compensating employees for valid commute time compensation they are entitled to is a form of wage theft.  

If you’re an employee who suspects your employer has cheated you out of part of or all of the commute time compensation you rightfully earned, call the aggressive wage & hour lawyers at Southern California Attorneys A.P.C. today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your legal options.

If you’re not sure what you should be being paid for your commute time, let's examine what California laws have to say about workers' commute compensation.

Do California Workers Get Paid for Commute Time?

It depends on whether the worker conducts work-related activities during the commute. It might also depend on the distance and time the commute takes place. Here is a breakdown.

Normal Commute from Home to Work or Vice Versa

The law states that if the worker is commuting from home to work and vice versa, it's not considered work time. Therefore, your employer doesn’t have to pay you for this type of commute according to federal regulations.

This is true even if you work from different locations; for example, take an electrician traveling to a customer's home to make repairs. The law calls this commute an ordinary situation and does not warrant for a worker to be compensated.

“Normal” or “ordinary”, in this case, means before or after work hours and shifts. For instance, if you work a 9-5 job, commuting to work before 9 am or after 5 pm is not considered part of your work, so it's unpaid.

Instances Where Ordinary Commute Time Might Be Paid

In the previous example, the electrician might be eligible for commute compensation if:

  • The company equipment occupies most of the worker's vehicle space
  • The employee is not allowed to pick up passengers on their way to the work site

In such a situation, the employer has some control over the worker's commute time since the employee cannot conduct personal business, such as dropping their kids to school. Hence, this commute time constitutes work hours, and the employer may have to reimburse the worker.

The ordinary commute is also compensable where the employer requires employees to use employer-provided transportation. This applies when the employers ask employees to meet at a designated location for pickup to and from the workplace.

Also, if the employer prohibits employees from using their own transport means, then this commute time is compensable. Employer-provided transportation commute is not compensable if it's voluntary.

What About Mid-Work Hours Travel?

It is considered work time if a worker has to commute from one job site to the other for work-related activities. In this situation, the worker is entitled to commute compensation according to CFR § 785.38. However, this commute or travel must occur within the working hours window.

This also applies when an employer requires an employee to travel to a specific location to receive instructions or pick up tools.

If an employee is required to return to the employer's premises after their workday, this is also considered working time and should be compensated.

For instance, say that Bill is an electrician who works 9-5.

On this particular day, his employer sends him to another customer location where Bill works until 8 pm. If Bill's employer requires him to travel back to the premises to make a report, for example, this is still working time. However, if Bill heads home after completing his tasks at 8 pm, he will not be compensated for travel time.

All Travel Time Related to Work Duties is Compensable

If an employee has to travel for a business-related trip, they should be compensated. Federal regulations classify this time as working time, making it payable. Time spent on-board waiting for ticket purchases, or even during baggage checks is also payable.

As a general rule, workers are eligible for commute compensation when the travel time is longer than the worker's ordinary commute. So, if an employer designates an employee to a new temporary location, the employer must compensate for the employee's commute time, which exceeds the worker's ordinary commute.

Workers' Commute Compensation in California During Hybrid and Remote Working

Again, it's not black and white whether a hybrid or remote worker has to be paid for their commute time. However, it depends on what the employer defines as the regular work site.

When the remote location is named the regular work site, commuting to the employer's premises might be compensable. This also applies when the worker travels to a customer location or any other location for business purposes.

Contrarily, a worker might not receive compensation if the employer's premises is defined as the regular work site, and the remote site is just for flexibility.

Even then, whether commute time for hybrid workers is compensable depends on a couple of factors as per the California Employers Organization.

  • Whether remote working is temporary due to COVID or if it's indefinite.
  • Whether the employer defined the regular or standard worksite in writing
  • If the employee decides when they work in-office or remotely, or if the employer dictates this
  • How far the employee lives from the employer's premises. Is it out of state or too far such that travel wouldn't be classified as an ordinary comm?

However, commute compensation for remote and hybrid workers comes down to the employment agreement. For instance, if the agreement states that:  

  • The regular work site is both the employer's premises and a remote location
  • Employees can work remotely on certain days
  • Employers require employees to work in-office on particular days
  • In-office working days do not warrant commute compensation,

…then the employee will not be eligible for California worker's commute compensation.

Workers might receive commute compensation when the employee is not expected to travel regularly to the employer's premises. Also, if the employee lives far from work premises, they may be eligible for commute compensation when traveling to the employer's premises.

If you believe your employer is not fairly compensating your commute or travel time, reach out to us. Southern California Attorneys APC is ready to discuss your situation and options to ensure you are paid the full amount you deserve! We offer free, completely confidential consultations so you can ask questions and learn about your options. We can protect undocumented workers. Our team also offers all of our wage & hour services on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you don’t have to pay us anything upfront; when we win, your employer will pay our legal fees.

Schedule a free consultation to get started today.