Help Wanted: Travel time compensation for tech worker
Carrie Mason-DraffenCarrie Mason-Draffen
Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I recently started providing bookkeeping services to a small local company in the technology consulting field. And I also assist with human-resource and payroll-related questions. But I am not always knowledgeable on those topics, so I hope you can help me with a question.
The technology company has one employee who works in California providing tech consulting to a client. The employee is hourly. Recently, that employee traveled to New York for meetings with the business owners.
The question is whether this employee has to be paid for all the travel time and whether the pay rate should be adjusted for a Sunday meeting. Are these business-specific policy questions, or does employment law come into play? -- Work or Just Travel?
DEAR WORK: The answer isn't straightforward because the employee is a computer professional. Generally, the decision to pay or not depends on whether a worker is nonexempt, which generally means hourly, or exempt. And that dividing line is clear.
A truly exempt employee doesn't have to be paid for extra hours on the job as long as the person makes at least $455 a week. Nonexempt workers have to be paid for all the time they work, and that can include some travel time.
However, as mentioned before, the rules get more complex for computer workers. Certain exempt computer workers also have to make at least $455 a week. But they also sometimes have that rare distinction of being hourly and exempt. For that distinction to apply they must earn at least $27.63 an hour -- and have specific duties and job titles.
Those jobs include computer-systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer "and other similarly skilled computer workers," according to federal labor law. And the person's primary duties must consist of such things as the application of systems-analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users to determine hardware, software or system functional specifications. The duties are important because they ultimately determine whether the computer specialist is exempt. And if the high-tech employee is exempt -- even if the employee is paid hourly -- the company doesn't have to pay for any extra time.
"It's not the person's title that determines whether he or she is exempt," said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department. "It's their duties."
But your employer has to pay a nonexempt worker for all the time the person works, including some travel time.
"Travel away from home is clearly work time when it cuts across the employee's workday," Miljoner said quoting federal law. "The employee is simply substituting travel for other work duties . . . The time is not only hours worked on regular working days when it cuts across normal working hours, but also during corresponding hours on nonworking days."
Outside of work time the company doesn't have to pay.
"As an enforcement policy, our agency will not consider as work time that time spent in travel away from home outside of regular working hours," Miljoner said.
As for the Sunday meeting question, yes, a nonexempt employee must be paid for that extra time. But an exempt worker doesn't have to be.
DEAR CARRIE: I work four, 6½-hour days a week. If I am cut to two days, can I collect unemployment benefits while still working? -- Fewer Hours
DEAR FEWER HOURS: Assuming you meet other criteria for wages earned and hours worked, you could qualify if a reduction in your schedule takes you down to less than $405 a week. That's the maximum weekly unemployment benefit. For more information call the State Labor Department's Telephone Claims Center at 888-209-8124.
For more on computer professionals and overtime exemptions go to http://1.usa.gov/HtpZLi
For more on travel time as work go to http://1.usa.gov/M6EBiy