No Travel Time Pay for Special District Employees Who Voluntarily Drove Company Vehicles During Commute.

Category: Client Update
Date: Dec 3, 2018 06:54 PM

Pacific Bell Telephone Company (“Pac Bell”) employs technicians to install and repair residential video and internet services.  Prior to 2009, Pac Bell required all technicians to pick up company vehicles loaded with equipment each day at a Pac Bell garage.  Pac Bell paid technicians for time spent picking up the vehicle at the garage, loading it with equipment, and driving to the first work site.  Pac Bell also paid technicians for time spent driving from the last customer worksite to the garage at the end of the work day, but did not pay them for time spent traveling to or from the garage and their homes at the start and end of their shifts.

In 2009, Pac Bell created a voluntary “Home Dispatch Program” (“HDP”) that gave technicians the option to commute between their homes and work sites using a Pac Bell vehicle.  Use of the company vehicle was not mandatory, and technicians had the option to use their own cars instead.  Technicians participating in the HDP traveled to the garage once a week to load the Pac Bell vehicle with the necessary tools and equipment.  Pac Bell paid technicians for the time spent driving the vehicle to the garage and loading it with equipment on a weekly basis.  Technicians could drive the company vehicle home at the end of each work day, and drive from their home to their first work site the next day.  Pac Bell did not pay technicians for time spent driving the company vehicle between their homes and work sites at the start or end of the work day. 

Several technicians participating in the HDP sued, claiming they were entitled to pay for the time they spent driving a Pac Bell vehicle from their homes to and from their work site.  Because Pacific Bell is a special district, California wage and hour laws governing travel time (not the Fair Labor Standards Act) governed the dispute.  The California Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed the technicians’ claims.

First, the Court of Appeal found that because Pac Bell did not require employees to participate in the HDP or use a company vehicle, technicians were not under Pac Bell’s “control” during their commute between their home and work sites, and were not entitled to be paid for the time. 

Pac Bell did place restrictions on technicians’ personal activities while they were in a company vehicle.   Pac Bell required technicians to use its vehicles only for company business and they could not: carry unauthorized persons as passengers; run errands; pick up or drop off their children; or talk on a cell phone while driving.  But the Court found that the restrictions did not establish “control” because the use of the company vehicle was completely voluntary and not required. 

The Court of Appeal noted that the California Supreme Court found in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co. that “[E]mployers do not risk paying employees for their travel time merely by providing them transportation.  Time employees spend traveling on transportation that an employer provides but does not require its employees to use may not be compensable as ‘hours worked.’” (2000) 22 Cal.4th 557, 581 (Morillion).  Because Pac Bell did not require technicians to use company vehicles to travel between their homes and work sites, it was not required to compensate technicians for that time.

Second, the Court of Appeal found that Pac Bell was not obligated to pay technicians merely because technicians transported tools in their vehicles.  The technicians claimed that by transporting tools and equipment necessary for their work, they were “suffered or permitted to work,” and should be paid for their labor.   However, the Court of Appeal found that technicians were merely “commuting with necessary tools in tow,” but were not delivering heavy or specialized equipment to their work sites.  The former does not require additional time, effort, or exertion beyond what is required for commuting.  Thus, time spent driving with equipment was not compensable for this additional reason. 

Isreal Hernandez v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co. C974359, 2018 WL 5993860 (Cal. App. 3 Dist. Nov. 15, 2018)

NOTE:
The legal standards governing travel time and whether it is compensable, differ and depend upon the legal status of each public agency.  The rules for Charter Cities and all Counties are governed by the FLSA.  But the travel time rules for general law cities and special districts are governed by California wage and hour laws.  In this case, Pacific Bell Telephone Company was a special district and California wage and hour law applied to the travel time dispute.

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