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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Contractor looking for mileage reimbursement is out of luck

DEAR CARRIE: I am an independent contractor who works as a corporate trainer. I usually travel more than 50 miles from home to a client company's location for a week at a time. I am reimbursed for mileage, lodging and meals related to these trips. My next assignment, however, is considered local because the trip is 23 miles one way from my home. So I'll be commuting every day, which I am not happy about.

Company policy says that I cannot claim any expenses while I'm working close to home since one-way travel of under 50 miles is considered an ordinary commute, and not eligible for expense reimbursement. So during that shorter commute, any lodging and meal expenses I incur will not be reimbursed. I sort of get that part. But what about mileage reimbursement? As a contractor, I consider my office location to be my home and I feel that any travel to a client's location, regardless of how many miles it is, should be eligible for mileage reimbursement. I'd like your thoughts on this. -- Miles to Go

DEAR MILES: The company's policy is legal for one key reason: Mileage reimbursement isn't covered by labor laws. So companies can set the terms. Even if mileage reimbursement were mandated, you still wouldn't have any recourse under labor laws because true independent contractors aren't covered by labor statutes. That said, you may be able to write off some of the unreimbursed expenses on your taxes.

DEAR CARRIE: I was wondering when the proposed overtime regulation is going to take effect. I currently work 55 hours a week as an assistant manager in a retail store. But I get paid for just 40. So more than a quarter of the hours I work each week are free labor for my employer. This is awful. I need some relief. -- Less Free Labor

DEAR LESS: You may have to wait a while. The comment period for the proposed regulation ended just this month -- Sept. 4, 2015. The U.S. Labor Department will sift through the comments from employers, employees and others. Some employment experts don't expect a new regulation before next year.

As you know, the proposal would more than double the federal minimum salary for overtime-exempt employees such as yourself to $970 a week from the current $455; the current New York State minimum is $656.25. The raise would be the first national increase in that base wage since 2004. Still, some experts hope the final increase will be less.

If the Labor Department adopts the $970 a week, your boss could still require you to work 55 hours a week or even more, but the company will have to pay you substantially more.

DEAR READERS: The reader who sent in the "Salary Switch" question that ran last week wrote back to say that my explanation put her mind at ease, even though the news wasn't good. Her question concerned whether her son's prospective employer could legally withdraw a salary offer that seemed set, only to replace it with one that was $10,000 less, and claim the higher offer was a mistake. The salary change was legal for several reasons, including the fact that her son hadn't begun work yet and wasn't covered by a contract.

Here is her response:

DEAR CARRIE: I can't tell you how excited I was to see my letter in your column last night. I actually woke my husband up to show him! I was questioning if the salary change was legal. My son, who didn't want to make any waves, decided to take the job despite the salary reduction. I feel better about his decision because seeing my question in writing and thoroughly explained, put my mind at ease.

Go to for details on the U.S. Labor Department's proposal to raise the minimum salary for overtime exempt employees.

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