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Travel Time in California: A Must-Know Guide for Employers

Is travel time paid in California?
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Understanding travel time pay in California is essential for employers. It involves complex rules and regulations that affect how you compensate your employees, manage your operations, and protect your bottom line. Get it wrong, and you risk costly lawsuits and unhappy employees, not to mention inefficient practices that will eat into your profit.

So, let’s get it clear from the get-go: Is travel time paid in California?

A short answer is yes, but you should know that not all travel counts. 

To avoid the pitfalls of failing to comply with legal requirements, you should familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of travel time pay and mileage reimbursement in California.

Our guide is here to explain the concept of travel time pay, how it differs from regular pay, and what California state law stipulates. 

We’ll also provide some practical tips on calculating California travel time pay and mileage reimbursement accurately and fairly.

Overview of California Labor Laws Related to Travel Time

When enforcing travel time pay, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) pays a lot of attention to detail. 

The DLSE guidelines specify when you must compensate your employees for travel time, whether running a local errand or going on an out-of-state business trip. 

Remember that if you overlook these directives, you can risk your company financially and reputationally. Ignoring DLSE’s well-outlined norms can open you up to legal complications, including penalties that could negatively impact your bottom line. 

So, what are the rules you need to follow?

What Constitutes “Hours Worked” in California

In California employment law, “hours worked” is crucial in defining compensable time, including travel time. It includes:

  • Time actively spent performing work-related tasks, such as sending emails, making phone calls, or visiting clients.
  • The time when employees aren’t directly involved in work but remain under sufficient control of the employer, to the extent that the law considers it is working time. This usually means they’re not free to follow purely personal pursuits during that time.

Specific Rules Governing California Travel Time Pay

  • Using employer’s vehicle. The time spent traveling is compensable if an employee has to use the company vehicle for work purposes.
  • Carrying employer tools. If an employee transports tools or equipment for their employer, adding time and effort beyond the usual commute, that extra time must be paid.
  • Alternate worksite reporting. If an employer requires an employee to travel to a different job site on a short-term basis, which involves more than a minor distance, this travel time must be compensated.
  • Special circumstances. Activities like education and training time may also count as “working hours” under certain conditions.
  • Special rates. If an employer decides to pay a special rate for travel time, they must establish and inform employees about this rate in advance.
  • Advance notice and minimum wage. Employees must be informed of the travel rate in advance, and this rate cannot fall below the minimum wage.

When Does Travel Time Require Pay in California?

To better explain the issue, let’s discuss a couple of examples in which employees are entitled to travel time pay under California law: 

  • If your employees are making trips during work hours for business-related tasks — for instance, shuttling between different office locations or running errands for supplies, those hours are generally compensable.
  • You must reimburse the travel time when an employee travels out of town for a business event and returns the same workday. However, note that the usual commute time to the regular workplace and back to the employee’s home can be excluded from this calculation.
  • If employees are required to stay overnight for business purposes, the rules become more complex. Generally speaking, the time spent traveling during regular working hours is compensable. However, the same doesn’t apply to the time at the destination unless it’s spent working. 
  • If travel is a central part of the employee’s job (think sales representatives or delivery drivers), almost all the time spent traveling during work hours is compensable, including wait time at airports or other transit hubs.
  • Mandatory attendance at training sessions or conferences also requires compensation for travel time. If the event is outside of regular work hours, but attendance is compulsory, you must also reimburse your employees for travel time.

For example, if Sarah, a sales rep, has to drive from her regular work location to a client’s office in the middle of the day, that time is compensable. If she’s flying out for a multi-day conference, the time spent in transit could be considered work hours, depending on various factors. The rules around this scenario might differ and involve considerations such as meals and lodging.

Differentiating Between the Everyday Commute and Compensable Travel Time 

Understanding the fine line between commute time and work-related travel is critical to avoiding legal complications.

Your employees’ normal commute to and from the regular worksite is generally off your tab. In other words, you’re not required to reimburse your employees for the time they spend commuting between their homes and their regular worksites.     

However, certain situations turn the usual commute into compensable work time.

  • Employer-provided transportation. If an employee must come to a determined place and use the employer’s transportation to and from the worksite, that travel time is compensable under California law.
  • Restrictions on personal transportation. If employees aren’t allowed to use their own transportation and must use the employer’s, then the time is also considered work time that must be compensated.

The Morillion v. Royal Packing Co. case is crucial for understanding the travel time pay in California. The court held that the employees who had to travel on the employer-provided buses were entitled to compensation for their travel time since they were subject to the employer’s control and could not use that time for their own purposes. This case has important implications for defining what constitutes compensable work hours under the law.

Travel Time Pay and Mileage Reimbursement in California

If an employee’s job description requires using their personal vehicle for work-related activities, according to the California Labor Code Section 2802, employers have to reimburse them. This is not just for fuel expenses but also includes factors like vehicle wear and tear.

Moreover, the right to mileage reimbursement is non-waivable. So, what does this mean for you? 

Simply put, even if your employment contract states that employees waive their rights to mileage reimbursement, this provision is void in a court of law.

Although many employers rely on the IRS standard mileage rate for calculating reimbursements, it’s important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. 

If an employee can prove that their actual expenses have exceeded this rate, you must cover the difference.

The risks of not abiding by these rules are far from trivial. Failure to adequately reimburse employees can result in wage and hour lawsuits, a situation no employer wants to find themselves in. 

A reliable mileage tracking solution, such as Timeero, can help you accurately track and adequately reimburse your employees for business mileage.

Legal Must-Dos and Best Practices for California Employers

To that end, let’s explore legal must-dos and best practices that can serve as your guiding compass.

Advanced time and mileage tracking

To stay compliant with California labor laws, consider using one of the best employee GPS time and mileage tracking software designed with precision in mind. Such a tool won’t only automate what could be an error-prone manual process but also provide airtight records should any legal problems arise. Trust us, robust software is a worthwhile investment.

Up-to-date policies

Your employee handbook isn’t just a document; it’s your legal shield. Make sure it’s always updated with the latest company travel policy and mileage reimbursement policy

This will keep your team informed and serve as your first line of defense in case of disputes or inquiries.

Regular audits

You shouldn’t wait to find yourself in legal trouble to examine your processes. Regular audits can serve as a preventative measure, offering a clear insight into any discrepancies that could snowball into serious legal issues. Think of it as your business health check-up.

Expert consultation

Regulatory changes sometimes happen without much notice. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult legal experts who specialize in California labor law. Remember, preemptive legal advice is often much more affordable than dealing with potential litigation or lawsuits.

How Can Timeero Help Employers Stay Compliant With California Travel Time?

Compliance with California’s travel time regulations is easier than you think, thanks to Timeero. 

Our comprehensive software offers a range of features designed to keep you in line with 

California state laws effortlessly.

Time Tracking

timeero time clock
Easily track hours worked using the Timeero mobile app.

The crucial concept in California travel time pay is the concept of “hours worked.” Any compliance with the law must start there.

Timeero offers precise time-tracking functionalities that comply with California laws, capturing details of your employees’ work hours to ensure fair compensation.

All your employees need to do is download a mobile app on their phones and clock in when their workday begins. The app will keep track of all their work-related activities and automatically create time cards with the clock in and out time and the total number of hours worked. 

As the app tracks time during working hours only, the hours worked will also include employee travel time. 

Timeero software comes with an option to set a different hourly rate for the jobs you create, giving you flexibility around the travel time rate.

Mileage Tracking

But Timeero’s usability for compensating your workers’ travel expenses doesn’t end there. 

When employees use their own vehicles for work-related tasks, accurate mileage tracking is essential for reimbursement, in line with California Labor Code Section 2802. Timeero facilitates this with its powerful tracking features.

timeero mobile tracker
Timeero automatically tracks employees' mileage during shifts.

When it recognizes driving, the Timeero mobile app automatically starts tracking employees’ mileage and routes, capturing precise data for accurate reimbursement.

timeero suggested mileage
Timeero lets you compare actual vs. the shortest route and cut down your costs.

You can also use the app to replay employees’ routes and compare their actual routes with the shortest routes to their destinations.

Segmented Tracking

To provide a clearer view of how employee time is spent during work hours, Timeero offers segmented tracking capabilities. This visual timeline and data gathered can be especially useful in the context of California’s nuanced labor laws around travel time.

timeero segmented tracking overview
Timeero gives you a quick overview of time spent on-site vs. travel time.

Segmented tracking will give you a quick overview of your employee’s travel time vs. time spent on site. If there are any potential issues when it comes to excessive travel time or mileage, you will be able to spot them right away.

California Overtime Settings

Timeero includes settings specifically designed for tracking California-specific overtime and double-time hours, helping you maintain compliance with state labor laws.

timeero overtime settings
Ensure your compliance with California Overtime rules using Timeero.

You can choose the California Overtime Rules feature in the company settings, set the overtime rate, and have the exact payroll data ready when the next paycheck is due.

California Breaks

During their working hours, non-exempt employees in California are mandated to use their breaks. Not providing them with breaks leads to premium pay and potential legal and financial penalties.

Timeero includes a California Breaks Tracker feature that helps you ensure compliance with California meal and rest break laws, further reducing the risk of labor law violations.

timeero daily sign off form
Employees can attest to their breaks using the Daily Sign-off form.

With this feature, your California workers must complete the Daily Sign-off form before clocking out from their shifts. This way, they will verify whether they’ve used their breaks in a way that is compliant with California breaks law. Timeero will also automatically alert you if there is a compliance issue.

Disclaimer: California laws are complex, so this article serves informational purposes only. Consult your legal team for personalized advice.

FAQ: Travel Time in California

Is It a Law in California That You Must Be Paid for Travel Time?

Yes, it’s a legal requirement. Failure to comply with the California Labor Code and DLSE guidelines on travel time pay can result in legal actions, including penalties and back pay.

How Many Hours Per Day Is Travel Time in California?

There’s no hard and fast rule for a “per day” cap on travel time. However, what counts as compensable hours varies based on travel, whether a special one-day assignment or an overnight trip. An accurate time-tracking tool is your best friend here.

How Much is Travel Pay in California?

In California, the rate for travel time pay is typically calculated at the employee’s regular rate of pay. But, in some cases, both sides may agree to a different rate for travel time before the travel takes place. The rate must be at least the minimum wage.

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