While most employees are commuters and get to and from their usual work location on their own dime, in their own vehicle, some employees are offered employer-provided transportation. In general, non-exempt employees are paid to perform work at an hourly rate, for every minute spent under the "control" of the employer. Although travel to and from the normal place of work is typically not compensable time, the California Court of Appeal in Hernandez v. Pacific Bell Telephone Company addressed the issue of whether commute time is compensable when it is spent in a company owned-vehicle, which is also transporting employer supplies, and in which the employer imposes rules about what employees can do during the commute.
In this case, employees were given the option to use an employee-provided vehicle to travel to and from work sites at the beginning and the end of each workday. Plaintiffs argued that the time was compensable because technicians could "use the company vehicle only for company business and only authorized persons can ride in or drive the vehicle. Technicians must drive directly between home and the worksite; they are not permitted to stop along the way to run errands or drop off or pick up children from school or talk on a cell phone while driving." However, although the employees were required to follow certain rules if they wanted to use the company-owned vehicles to commute, the California appellate court still found that the employer was not required to pay the employees for this time because the program was entirely optional.
Important to the outcome of the case, the employees still had the option of using their own vehicles to get to and from the workplace at the beginning and end of the day. Additionally, employees' use of the vehicle did not require any additional work or effort from the employee than they would have had to perform using an alternate method of transportation.
Employers considering not compensating employees for travel time in company vehicles may now have a path to do so in a compliant manner. Of course, each situation is unique and employers should consult with their employment counsel before making any changes in compensation practices.