A California court recently provided helpful guidance to assist employers to determine how to pay hourly employees who travel as part of their workday. Under California law, commuting time to and from work normally does not constitute "hours worked" and is not compensable. This is true whether the employee commutes from home to a fixed location or to a different worksite. On the other hand, travel time is compensable when the employee is subject to the control of the employer, such as when the employee is required to travel from one job site to another.
Until this week, no California appellate court had addressed the narrower question of under what circumstances an employee who uses her or his personal vehicle to travel to customer sites must be compensated for driving time from the employee's home to the first customer site and for driving time from the last customer site to the employee's home.
In Oliver et al. v. Konica Minolta Business Solutions, USA, the California Court of Appeal held that under certain circumstances, service technicians who used their personal vehicles to carry supplies and tools to and from customer locations "may" be entitled to compensation for their time driving from home to their first customer site in the morning and back to their home from their last customer site in the afternoon/evening, as well as mileage reimbursement.
At the trial court, the plaintiff service technicians argued that the commute time from home to the first job and the commute time from the last job to the employees' homes was compensable worktime because employees were required to carry defendant Konica's supplies and tools in their personal vehicles for use at customer appointments throughout the workday.
Plaintiffs argued this meant that Konica exerted a sufficient level of "control" over their commute time to and from home and that such travel time constituted compensable work hours. Thus, plaintiffs argued, they were entitled to reimbursement for the mileage driven to the first and from the last customer site.
Konica argued that the presence of tools and parts in plaintiffs' vehicles did not "transform their ordinary commute into worktime" and that because plaintiffs were not subject to Konica's control or engaged in work-related tasks during their commute and did not incur expenses in direct consequence of the discharge of their duties, they were not entitled to payment for time worked or mileage. The trial court agreed with Konica and granted summary judgment.
However, upon an appeal brought by the service technicians, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's ruling. The appellate court held that there were triable issues of fact as to whether the commute time in question was compensable worktime and, therefore, whether the mileage was reimbursable.
If carrying the tools and equipment in the employees' personal vehicles was genuinely optional (and not required to do the job), then the time and expense of commuting to and from home is not compensable or reimbursable. Even if the service technicians were required to carry the tools and equipment with them, the time and expense associated with the commute still would not be compensable if the tools and equipment did not prevent the employees from engaging in personal pursuits (such as taking kids to school on the way to the customer site, stopping at the store on the way home, etc.), if they chose to do so.
In reversing the trial court's order for summary judgement, the Court of Appeal found that the employees presented admissible evidence creating factual dispute as to a wide variation in the size of their cars, how much equipment and tools they carried, and how much space this took up in their cars. Some employees claimed that the equipment took up all of the passenger and cargo space in the car except the driver's seat (preventing them from using their vehicle for personal pursuits). Some asserted they could not even see out of their rearview window. This was ultimately for the jury to decide.
While the appellate court did not set a bright-line rule explaining when commute to and from the first and last work assignments must be compensable, it did solidify a framework for determining when employees are deemed to be "under control" while commuting to and from their first and last work assignments.
When employees are restricted to the degree that that they cannot use the commute time for personal pursuits (e.g., employer's equipment/tools take up most or all of the free space in the vehicle; the employee is prohibited from taking passengers to and from other locations on her/his way to the first customer site or returning home from the last customer site), such commuting time is likely to be held as compensable worktime, and mileage for such driving must be reimbursed.
Consequently, employers should review their travel time and expense reimbursement policies in light of this framework.