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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Worker seeks compensation as commute time grows

If an employee is required to park a

If an employee is required to park a distance from the job site, who pays for the transportation is a matter of a labor contract or company policy, experts say. Photo Credit: Getty Images

DEAR CARRIE: I work at a local airport. My employer is contractually obligated to supply parking because there is no free, public parking near the terminal where we work. Until recently we parked in a lot and rode company-supplied transportation from there to the terminal. The shuttles departed at scheduled times for a one-way commute that took 15 to 20 minutes. We now have to park much farther away in a lot that is serviced only by unscheduled public transportation. As a result, the combined wait and travel time to and from the lot can be as long as 30 to 40 minutes in each direction. Since the travel time has increased significantly, must the company compensate us for at least some of this extra travel time? -- Road Wage?

DEAR ROAD WAGE: Unfortunately, your employer doesn't have to compensate you for the extra time. Labor laws don't require the company to pay you for commuting time, which is defined as travel time before your shift or after your shift, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department in Westbury.

"From the information given, it appears that the travel time in question is part of home-to-work and work-to-home commuting time at the start and end of the workday," he said. "As such it is excluded from compensable time worked."

So your quest for payment would most likely be a contractual issue that you should take up with your union, or with the company, not the labor department.

"We can't enforce a contractual obligation that has nothing to do with the requirements of labor law," Miljoner said.

The situation would be different if you regularly traveled between job sites. For hourly workers that is considered time worked and has to be paid. Here is what the Labor Department's Fact Sheet No. 22 says about that:

"Time spent by an employee in travel as part of their principle activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday, is work time and must be counted as hours worked."

For more information, call the Labor Department at 516-338- 1890 or 212-264-8185.

DEAR CARRIE: I work at a private, two-year college. Over the last year the school has rewritten its human-resource rules. My question involves whether a company can require you to use your vacation or personal days when the school closes unexpectedly for reasons such as bad weather or for repairs or holidays. For example, this year when the college closes the day after Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Year's, we have to use paid time off to cover those days or not be paid. In addition, human resources has decided that staff no longer will be paid for accrued time when they leave the school for whatever reason. This includes employees who have banked substantial PTO. Is this allowable, especially for longtime employees with significant accrued time? -- Change of Plans

DEAR CHANGE: The school's actions are legal on both counts. As I have mentioned here frequently, labor laws don't require employers to offer paid time off, so when they offer such a perk, they can decide how it is used or when it expires. But they have to tell employees about the policy -- or any changes -- ahead of time. And that appears to be the case here.

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