Joseluis Alcantar sued his employer, Hobart Service, alleging Hobart did not compensate its technicians for the time they spent commuting in Hobart’s service vehicles from their homes to their job sites and from those job sites back home. The general rule is that employers are not required to compensate employees for their commute to and from work. So why did Joseluis think his employer must pay for commute time to and from work? Because Hobart’s policies placed Joseluis under Hobart’s control while commuting.
Employer Must Pay for Commute Time
Employers must compensate an employee for all “hours worked,” which includes any time the employee is under the employer’s control. Although Hobart did not require employees to bring company vehicles home, Joseluis alleged Hobart did not provide sufficient protected parking at the home office. Since Joseluis was responsible for the safety of the vehicle and the expensive equipment in the vehicle, and because Hobart’s home office did not have sufficient space for all company vehicles, Joseluis felt he had to take the company vehicle home in order to keep it safe.
Hobart’s policies, among other things, severely restricted Joseluis’ off-work use of the company vehicle:
Personal use of the service vehicle, other than commuting from home to the first work assignment and from the last work assignment to home, is strictly prohibited unless prior written approval is granted by management. (An example of personal use for which prior approval could be granted would be in case of a dental appointment which cannot be scheduled after hours or on a weekend.)
Hobart also prohibited employees from carrying passengers without prior approval, and from transporting alcohol. Hobart also required Joseluis to respond to telephone calls on his company-issued cell phone while commuting.
According to the court:
An employee’s commute is not typically compensable under California labor law, even “when the employee commutes in a vehicle that is owned, leased, or subsidized by the employer.” Cal. Lab. Code § 510(b). The time may be compensable, however, if the employee can classify it as “hours worked.” The Industrial Welfare Commission has defined “hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer,” including “all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11040(2)(K).
Joseluis argued that, as a practical matter, he was required to commute in the company vehicle, and since the employer controlled what he could and could not do during that commute, the employer must pay for commute time. The court concluded that a reasonable jury could conclude that Joseluis’ commute time was compensable.
Employers who allow employees to use company vehicles to commute to and from work should carefully review their policies and procedures. Too many restrictions on employee use of the company-vehicles could lead a court to conclude the employer must pay for commute time.
Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.
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