Washington Appeals Court Holds That Travel Time is Compensable

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Washington Appeals Court Holds That Travel Time is Compensable

In a recent case before the Washington Court of Appeals, it was held that all employee travel time out of town is compensable. This decision corresponds with the state’s Department of Labor and Industries (DLI), which holds that all work-related travel time is compensable. This means that employers with any hourly workers in the state of Washington should become familiar with these new rules.

In this case, the DLI had cited an employer for failure to pay four workers for a trip they took to China. The employer compensated the employees for the time they had spent traveling to, within, and back from China; however, it did not pay for all the time spent traveling. The employees filed claims with DLI seeking to receive compensation for all time they had spent, including all travel back and forth from airports, as well as time spent in airports and flying. This request was in accordance with the DLI’s rules regarding hours worked and guidance offered by the department. In response to the employees’ claims, the DLI issued a citation to the employer for these wages.

The employer appealed the DLI’s citation, and the Office of Administrative Hearings and the DLI’s Director reviewed the appeal but upheld the citation. The employer then appealed this decision to the courts, arguing that the DLI’s interpretation of hours worked does not match with prior case law interpreting the statute. The trial court agreed, but the employees appealed. The Washington Court of Appeals found that under the state’s law, travel time is regarded as hours worked and the prior case law interpreting hours worked was not applicable to out-of-town travel, only regular commutes. 

Further, the appeals court held that the DLI’s interpretation was a plausible construction that does not conflict with legislative intent and therefore is entitled to deference. As the interpretation was clearly consistent with the legislation, the court found that the employer was liable for the wages and returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Employer Takeaways

This case will require employers with employees in the state of Washington to make significant changes to how they handle travel time. Under federal law and prior standards in Washington, employers were not required to pay hourly wages for travel that did not involve time spent working. However, pursuant to this decision, employers will have to pay hourly workers for all time spent traveling. As such, it is important for these employers to review their travel policies and ensure that they are in compliance with this decision.