Unlike salaried workers, hourly workers must be paid for every hour they spend in service of a business. If a business requires an hourly employee to travel for a work purpose, he generally must be paid for it. However, pay obligations differ depending on whether or not the travel occurs during the day, as a one day assignment or for an overnight trip.
Employers do not need to compensate an employee for his normal commute to work. However, if the employee must travel throughout the day to perform work-related activities, he's on the clock during that travel time. For example, an hourly worker who drives to different client sites to perform sales calls must be paid for the time it takes to drive from site to site. You also must compensate him for travel time if he has to return to work outside of his normal hours to deal with an emergency or unexpected situation. For example, if you call in your 9 to 5 employee at 10 p.m., the time it takes him to get to and from work for that trip must be compensated.
If an employee has to travel farther than usual for a special assignment in another city for one day, the time it takes to get there should be compensated. However, you can deduct the employee's normal commute time when figuring what the extra compensation should be. For example, say that it normally takes your employee half an hour to get to work and you send him to a city two hours away for the entire working day. Since the assignment is an extra 90-minute commute each way, he's entitled to three hours of additional pay.
If you're sending an employee on an out-of-town, overnight trip, his travel time may need to be compensated. The U.S. Department of Labor considers this travel time to be work time if it occurs during the employee's normal workday. If the employee leaves work early to catch a plane, train, bus or drive his car to the overnight destination, he still must be paid for his normal workday. For example, if he usually works 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and leaves at 2 p.m. for travel, he still must be paid until 5 p.m. If the travel occurs outside of his normal hours, you don't need to pay him for the time.
If your employee is clocking a lot of travel hours, he may need to be paid at an overtime rate. Federal regulations mandate that an employee be paid at one-and-a-half times his regular pay rate for time worked over 40 hours a week. However, some states have stricter overtime policies and require overtime in other situations. For example, California requires employees to be paid overtime for time worked over 8 hours a day, and receive double-pay after 12 hours in a day.