OPM clarifies pay rules for teleworkers who must travel during work
Guidance aimed at stipulating when employees must be paid for their travel to traditional work sites comes ahead of an expected push by agencies to increase the amount of “meaningful in-person work” this fall.
The Office of Personnel Management on Monday issued new guidance to help agencies and federal employees who either telework or work remotely understand when they’re eligible to be paid for their time traveling to or from traditional work sites.
“As the federal workplace landscape changes, agencies must continue to correctly apply the rules concerning hours of work for all federal employees, including those who are teleworkers and remote workers,” wrote Veronica Hinton, OPM’s associate director for employee services in a memo to agency HR directors. “While federal employees may have access to workplace flexibilities with respect to the location where work is performed and/or the hours during which work is performed, the crediting of time as hours of work is based on applicable rules under Title 5 and/or the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
As a general matter, under Title 5, time spent on official travel outside of an employee’s official duty station are considered hours of work—that is, paid—if performed during the employee’s normal work hours, while travel time between different work locations are paid as long as those locations are both within an employee’s duty station. An employee’s duty station is typically calculated as the area within a 50-mile radius of their work site.
And under the Fair Labor Standards Act, travel time is paid when an employee is required to travel during their regular work hours or if they meet special conditions, such as performing work while traveling. But normal “home-to-work” travel time is generally considered “commuting time” and thus not eligible for additional compensation. And official travel conducted outside of work hours is not eligible to be paid, but can be credited in the form of compensatory time off.
But the White House’s urging of agencies to ramp up in-person work this fall may lead to an increase in instances where a teleworking or remote working employee is called into the office, potentially causing complications regarding whether those workers should be paid for their commute. OPM’s guidance outlines several scenarios that may arise, and spells out how agencies should handle them for the purposes of the employees’ compensation.
First, in cases in which an agency informs an employee in advance that they must to commute to work on a day when they were already scheduled to telework, time spent traveling to the traditional work site is considered commuting and should be unpaid.
But if an employee’s supervisor requires them to report to an agency work site after the start of their workday, time spent traveling to the worksite is considered paid, and the employee is expected to complete the rest of their workday at the work site. Although the trek home at the end of the workday is considered commuting time, the employee may request to use annual leave or other paid time off either to end their workday early, or to go home early and then complete their workday there. An employee with a flexible work schedule may also commute home during a break and then return to telework status and complete their workday there.
In instances where the telework-eligible employee chooses to come in on a previously scheduled telework day, the travel to and from work is considered commuting time, though the employee retains the ability to request leave to return home or to take a break to go home before completing their workday.
The treatment of travel time for remote workers, who are not generally expected to report to a traditional worksite at least once per pay period, is more complicated. In cases where a remote work employee are required in advance to report to an agency work site, whether they are paid for that travel depends on how far the site is from their home, since their official duty station is typically their home. If the agency work site is within their official duty station—within a 50-mile radius—travel to and from the work site is considered commuting time.
But if the work site is outside of their official duty station, the conditions under which they may be paid depend on whether their position is exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. If they are exempt, travel time is paid if it occurs during their regularly scheduled workday. But if they are covered by the law, they should be compensated for their travel time, regardless of when the travel occurs.
“There is no deduction (offset) based on the time the employee ‘would have spent’ in normal home to work travel, since a remote worker would not have spent time engaged in commuting,” OPM wrote.
And if an agency supervisor requires a remote work employee to report to an agency work site after their workday begins—and they live close enough for same-day reporting to be possible—time spent traveling to and from the worksite during regular work hours is paid for both FLSA-exempt and nonexempt employees. The supervisor may determine when the employee can cease working at the worksite and begin to travel home, be that during working hours so they can complete their workday at home or at the end of the workday. In the latter case, the employee would be credited with additional hours of work to compensate them for their commute home.
Remote workers who choose to come into a traditional work site follow the same rules as teleworkers who choose to come in on a regularly scheduled telework day: time spent traveling to and from work is considered commuting time, although they can request to use leave to cover their trek home or, if they have a flexible work schedule, they can take a break from work to commute home and then complete their work day there.
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