When Must California “Prevailing Wage” Employees Receive Travel Time Pay?
California requires anyone employed on a “public works” project worth more than $1,000 to receive at least the “prevailing wage” for all hours worked. The Department of Industrial Relations establishes the prevailing wage that must be paid for all hours worked by a non-exempt employee in certain job classifications. Typically, the “hours worked” do not include time the employee spends commuting to and from the public works job site.
Indeed, as a general rule, an employee’s commuting time (to and from a regular work site) is not counted as work time under any federal or state labor laws governing, for example, minimum wage and overtime. As far as the law is concerned, and specifically in the support for Labor Code 510, the working day begins “in the office, not commuting to and from.” But there are exceptions. For instance, California courts have held that when an agricultural employer requires its employees to take its buses to and from a job site, that time must be compensated, as the employees are “subject to the control of the employer” during this travel period. Additionally, workers who must travel a distance beyond their normal commute to get to and from a remote job site that generally must receive some travel time pay.
Calif. Appellate Court Orders Reconsideration of Employee Class Action on Travel Pay
This question of when employers must pay for work-related travel is a practical, and critical, legal issue. Employers do not have to pay for commuting time, absent special circumstances under which the employee remains subject to the employer’s control during travel. However, a recent decision from the California Third District Court of Appeal, Rojas-Cifuentes v. Modular Systems, Inc., offers employees another option to seek compensation for certain work-related travel.
This case involves a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) lawsuit filed by an employee against his employer for a number of alleged California Labor Code violations. The employer manufactured and installed modular classrooms throughout California. One of the PAGA claims addressed the employer’s alleged failure to pay the prevailing wage for “travel time related to a public works project,” i.e., the time spent by a class of aggrieved employees traveling to numerous California cities to install the modular classrooms, which sometimes required overnight stays.
A California Superior Court judge declined to certify a class action based on this issue. The judge concluded that there were “too many individualized issues” among the class members that would require looking at specific contracts. The judge noted that some contracts required employees to travel to sites in company vehicles, while other contracts said the employees could choose to use their own transportation. Generally, when an employee has the option of using employer shuttles or other employer-provided transportation, no travel time pay is due.
The Third District, however, held that the trial court was too quick to reject class certification, and that an employee’s right to compensation for travel time did not necessarily depend on their contracts. At the same time, the Third District noted the law in this area was “complicated.”
Basically, federal law–specifically, the Fair Labor Standards Act–states travel time must be compensated when an employee who normally works at a fixed location is given a “special 1-day assignment in another city.” California law, however, contains no similar law, although the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has said in opinion letters that employees who are “normally assigned to a specific work location” should be compensated for any unusual travel time spent commuting to a temporary worksite.
In any event, the Third District held that the FLSA alone was enough to require the Superior Court to reconsider its position on class certification, i.e., whether the employer should have paid travel time to a class of these prevailing wage employees who were required to travel well beyond their normal commute to do their job. At the same time, the appellate court rejected the employee’s claim that all travel time related to a public works project required compensation. The Court said there was no basis for this position in federal or state law.
Contact California Employment Lawyer Karen J. Sloat Today
As the Third District observed, the rules governing employee compensation for travel time are quite complicated and depend heavily on the particular facts and circumstances of a given situation. If you have questions or concerns about whether you are being properly paid for all of your working time and need to speak with a qualified Riverside County & Coachella Valley employment lawyer representing employees, contact the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APCtoday.