Clarification on Commute vs Travel for Work

Travel for work can be a confusing topic.  For example, some companies pay for travel only one way, or set limits on the number of kilometres or hours they will compensate for, or do not compensate the employee at all.  Unfortunately, these practices may not be correct under the Employment Standards Act (ESA).

First, we must explain the difference between “Commute” and “Travel” time, in the employment context, as these are separate entities under the ESA.

  • “Commute” refers to the time spent traveling from the employee’s home or place of rest (such as a hotel if on the road) to the place of work and then again from the place of work to the home/place of rest.
  • “Travel” refers to the time spent traveling for the benefit of the employer, such as sales routes and trips between construction job sites or from a main office location to satellite offices or jobsites.
    • For example, if your employees are required to arrive at a central location on their own, then get into a company vehicle and travel to another site, any time spent in that vehicle is considered work time, including the return trip to the original office.
    • In addition, asking an employee who is going on lunch break (normally unpaid time) to pick up something for the workplace such as coffee for a meeting or office supplies changes their break to paid travel time.

Employers are required to recognize “travel” hours when calculating the number of hours worked for overtime. This part poses the most monetary impact for employers as there could be overtime payouts if the number of hours “worked”, including travel, exceeds 44 hours in the week.

The employer can, however, pay the employee a lesser rate of pay for “travel” than the employee would receive for actual work on the job, as long as the travel rate is at least minimum wage.  Paying a lower travel rate could help lessen the impact of the travel costs when dealing with heavily-travelled routes that are frequently tied up with accidents and traffic jams. The overall amount of pay is lessened by the lower travel rate.

The overtime rate can be applied to the normal wage, or the “travel” wage, or a hybrid of both wages, so long as the employee receives 1.5 times the rate of pay for the number of hours over 44 in the work week.