According to the United States Department of Labor, traveling during normal work hours is deemed “travel time” and should be paid. “Travel time” can include both local trips and travel away from home.

What Is an Exempt Employee?

An exempt employee is “exempt” or excused from the overtime pay provisions. Exempt status has little to do with the genuine job description or the employee’s title but instead concentrates on the duties and responsibilities of that employee. Although the definition may differ by jurisdiction, an employee is usually exempt if they have more obligations than the average employee and perform more managerial tasks.

Exempt workers are not required to “punch a clock.” The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not limit the amount of time an employer is authorized to require an exempt employee to work. Again, state laws may have additional requirements from the FLSA.

Thus, such workers are exempt from being paid overtime because it is assumed that the employee is working independently and has more discretion in executing their tasks. For instance, if the individual is involved in hiring and firing duties, they will likely be exempt.

Specific employees are automatically listed as exempt, including administrative personnel, executives, highly skilled employees, and licensed professionals, such as physicians and engineers. Also, even if an employee is not explicitly listed as exempt, they may fit into an overtime pay exemption category based on their daily responsibilities.

What Is a Non-Exempt Employee?

A non-exempt worker must be paid overtime wages. They are typically called hourly employees or salaried employees (although paying an employee a salary does not automatically convert them into non-exempt workers). The federal rule normally states that hourly workers shall be paid a wage of 1.5 times their regular rate for all labor performed over 40 hours within a given time frame, usually a week.

Thus, if a non-exempt employee works more than 40 hours a week, they are lawfully permitted to overtime pay for their extra work. Ultimately, the FLSA states that workers who earn less than $23,600 a year or $455 a week are non-exempt.

What Are the Differences Between Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees?

Exempt or non-exempt status refers to whether an employee must be paid according to the overtime pay standards as outlined in the FLSA. According to FLSA, employers must generally pay their employees 1.5 times their regular wage for any work after a 40-hour workweek. Nevertheless, some workers are “exempt” from these requirements, meaning that they are not entitled to overtime pay even if they work past 40 hours a week.

State regulations also address exempt and non-exempt employees, and an individual state might have its definition of what constitutes these definitions and the definition for “overtime.” For example, exempt and nonexempt employees in California may differ from definitions in other states.

Do Employers Also Pay Commuting Time?

No. Any time spent commuting (traveling) to and from work or incidental commuting to work is not compensable. Rather, it is considered personal time, not business time. Further, according to the Department of Labor, workers who drive employer-provided vehicles consider the time spent in home-to-work travel by an employee in an employer-provided vehicle personal time that the employer should not pay.

Both exempt and non-exempt employees can be compensated for travel time if performed within a regularly scheduled administrative workweek or even overtime. Exempt workers are not permitted overtime, whereas non-exempt workers are hourly and are eligible for overtime pay.

It is also compensable for exempt and non-exempt employees in the following situations:

  • The employee is performing work while traveling (i.e., as a chauffeur);
  • Is incident to work performed while traveling;
  • Is carried out under such demanding and unique conditions that the travel is inseparable from work; or
  • Results from an event that could not be planned or controlled administratively, including travel by an employee to such an event and the employee’s return from such an event to their official duty station.

For non-exempt employees, travel that meets the overtime standard can also include:

  • Travel as a passenger on an overnight assignment during hours on non-work days that conform to regular working hours; and
  • One-day travel as a passenger to and from a temporary duty station.

What Kind of Travel Is Compensated?

Travel time is discussed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 29, Sections 785.33-785.41. The CFR separates travel time into three basic types:

  1. Commute Time: Time spent traveling from work to home and from home to work is not part of “hours worked.” CFR calls this a “normal incident of employment.” Yet, if an employee is called back out to work after having returned home in the case of an emergency, travel time is included in “hours worked.” The time spent traveling from home to a particular one-day site is also included, minus the typical commute time.
  2. Time Traveling Between Worksites: Time spent going between worksites in one day is included in “hours worked.” If the employee works late and returns to her work at 9 pm, all of this transport time is included. Nevertheless, if the worker goes directly home from the other worksite, the time traveling between the other worksite and home is considered a commute and does not count.
  3. Travel Away From Home Community: If the worker travels away from home, the time spent traveling within usual working hours will be included in “hours worked.” Yet, time spent traveling outside of working hours will not. Sleep and mealtime will also not constitute “hours worked” while away from home.

Can I Be Fired or Disciplined at Work for Off-Duty Conduct?

The answer to this question can be somewhat complicated. Several protections are provided for people’s right to privacy from their employers during their off-duty hours. The U.S. Constitution and some state constitutions have been interpreted as including a right to privacy.

All states have laws that safeguard people’s privacy, and some states have rules that expressly say that an employer cannot look into the private legal behavior of employees during off-work hours.

This means that state laws prohibit an employer from entering an employee’s house or tracking their movements through wearable technology without the worker’s permission. An employer cannot even ask an employee about their personal life unless they bring it up first.

What Non-Work-Related Activities are Protected?

Before checking the law, review any employee handbook or other stated policies to determine what your employer considers permissible.

There are state and federal laws that protect certain non-work-related activities and certain beliefs and other aspects of your personal life.

Should I Seek Legal Counsel to Help Me Obtain Compensation for Travel Time?

Suppose your travel time for work qualifies as part of your “hours worked” according to the Code of Federal Regulations. In that case, your employer is obligated to compensate you for that travel. If your employer declines to do so, an employment lawyer can help you assert your right to those unpaid wages.

An employment lawyer will also be able to help you if you are not being paid for other travel time that your employer had promised to pay you for. Use LegalMatch to start the process of getting the payment you’re owed today.