Navigating Business Travel Compensation

Understanding the Portal-to-Portal Act

By: Greg Modd

Business travel can be a complex aspect of employment, particularly when it comes to understanding compensation. The Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 provides crucial guidance, particularly for hourly employees. This federal law clarifies when employees should be paid for travel time and when not. Let’s dive into the details of the Act and explore some common scenarios to help employers and employees navigate these waters.

What is the Portal-to-Portal Act?

The Portal-to-Portal Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and was enacted to clarify compensable working time. It defines what type of travel time is considered work time and, therefore, must be compensated. The Act primarily excludes time spent traveling to and from the workplace (i.e., everyday commuting) from compensable work hours.

Scenarios Where Hourly Employees Are Paid for Travel

Scenario 1: Travel During Regular Working Hours

If an hourly employee travels during their regular working hours, regardless of the day of the week or whether they’re driving or are a passenger, this time is compensable. For example, if an employee works from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and travels for a business meeting during these hours, they should be compensated.

Scenario 2: Special One-Day Assignment in Another City

When an employee is sent on a one-day assignment to another city and returns home the same day, the travel time (minus their usual commuting time) is typically compensable. For instance, if an employee who usually commutes 30 minutes to work is sent on a 2-hour trip to a different city, the extra 1.5 hours each way should be paid.

Scenario 3: Travel as a Main Part of the Job

Employees whose primary job responsibility is traveling, such as a delivery driver, are compensated for their travel time. This includes time spent driving or time spent as a passenger en route to their various work destinations.

Scenarios Where Hourly Employees Are Not Paid for Travel

Scenario 1: Normal Commute

The time spent traveling from home to work, and vice versa is not compensable. This is considered a regular commute, even if the distance is significant.

Scenario 2: Travel to Workplace for Special Activities

Suppose an employee travels to a workplace for special activities outside regular working hours, such as training sessions. In that case, this travel time is generally not compensable unless the activities are directly related to the employee’s job.

Scenario 3: Overnight Travel Outside of Regular Working Hours

For overnight travel, only the travel time that coincides with the employee’s regular working hours is compensable. For example, if an employee travels from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm for business, and their regular hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, they are not compensated for travel since it’s outside their usual work hours.

The Portal-to-Portal Act provides a framework for understanding when business travel should be compensated. However, nuances in state laws and specific employment contracts can also influence these scenarios. Both employers and employees should be aware of these regulations to ensure fair and lawful compensation practices. It’s always advisable to consult with a legal expert or HR professional to navigate these complex scenarios in compliance with the law.