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Thursday Troubleshooter: Is travel time between dental offices paid time?

July 12, 2018
This dental team member says the dentist has been having staff travel between his two offices for years without paying them for the travel time. Is this legal?

Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: I’m the practice administrator in an oral surgery practice in Illinois. The doctor practices in three locations throughout the week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the surgical assistants are required to start at one location and then commute to the other location for the rest of the day.

My question is about compensation from one facility to the other. The doctor requires the assistants to punch out after working the morning at the first facility, pay for their own parking and transportation to the other facility, and then punch in again after they arrive to finish the day in the second office. In essence, the assistants are not compensated at all for their commuting during the workday. The dentist thinks this time should be their lunch break, but I think they’re still working when they travel from one place to the other.

Please advise whether the doctor should be compensating the staff for their time traveled between offices.

ANSWER FROM REBECCA BOARTFIELD, HR expert with Bent Ericksen & Associates:
You are absolutely correct! Travel between work sites must be paid time; it cannot be counted as a lunch break. Here is the specific code that addresses this under federal law.

Title 29, Part 785, Section 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (§785.38) states under "Travel that is all in the day's work:"

"Time spent by an employee in travel as part of his or her principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday, must be counted as hours worked. Where an employee is required to report at a meeting place to receive instructions or to perform other work there, or to pick up and carry tools, the travel from the designated place to the workplace is part of the day's work and must be counted as hours worked regardless of contract, custom, or practice. If an employee normally finishes work on the premises at 5 p.m. and is sent to another job that he or she finishes at 8 p.m. and is required to return to his or her employer's premises arriving at 9 p.m., all of the time is working time. However, if the employee goes home instead of returning to the employer's premises, the travel after 8 p.m. is home-to-work travel and is not hours worked. (Walling v. Mid-Continent Pipe Line Co., 143 F. 2d 308 (C. A. 10, 1944))."(1)

A​s a result, employees should remain clocked in during all travel between work sites.

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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring. All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.



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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.