Thursday Troubleshooter: Business trip has dental team member wondering if legal lines have been crossed
This dental assistant has to take a business trip that has become a burden for her. Between sharing a room and a bed, arriving home late, extra drive time, and lower compensation, she's wondering if everything is legal.
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QUESTION: The dentist is taking me (I’m the lead assistant), the office manager, and our new assistant to a seminar out of state. We’re flying out on a Sunday and flying back on a Wednesday and arrive home late at night. I live an hour from the airport, and I have to come into work Thursday morning. Everything about this trip is an inconvenience and is upsetting me.
We’ll be paid at a reduced rate and are responsible for our dinners. I had to buy business attire and I’ll be making less money. What really has me steaming is the office manager has booked her own room and I have to share a room and a bed! I’m so outraged about this. Our rooms are adjoining and since we are there three nights I feel like each of us should have the opportunity to sleep alone at least one night. I want to be comfortable for heaven’s sake! What can I do?
ANSWER FROM REBECCA BOARTFIELD, HR expert with Bent Ericksen & Associates:
It's unfortunate that you find yourself in a situation that’s making you so unhappy. While I'd like to offer you something that would help, I can't. Your employer has the right to send you on these trips. While you have a right to refuse, that could jeopardize your job because your employer could discipline or fire you for not participating in a work event as required.
Your employer also has the right to reduce your pay for a continuing education event when you’re not performing your normal job duties. The rate cannot be less than applicable minimum wage in your state or city.
Your employer is required to pay you for all events that he or she requires you to attend. For example, seminar attendance, special meals in which you are required to attend, and so on. Unless you’re free to make choices of your own and do as you wish, it’s considered work and must be paid.
Payment is also required for traveling to and from the event. When you’re driving, all drive time is required to be paid that is more than your normal commute. For example, if it normally takes you 30 minutes to commute to work and it will take you an hour to get to the airport, then you must be paid for the extra 30 minutes. For all other travel—flying, taxi, etc.—you must be paid when the time cuts across normal work hours, which applies seven days a week. For example, if your schedule is 8 to 5 Monday through Thursday, you must be compensated for all passenger (non-driving) travel that cuts across those hours no matter what day it occurs. With few exceptions, you must be paid for all times when you’re actually driving.
In terms of sharing a bed, this does seem highly inappropriate and fraught with potential problems, but I can't say that it is illegal. It is not normal and is best not handled this way, but there is no specific law preventing it. You can certainly voice your concerns to your employer but not much else can be done to persuade him or her to handle this differently.
As for paying for any expenses, it sounds as though everything is being covered by your employer except dinners. This is also legal. With a few exceptions, your employer has the right to determine which expenses to cover. In this case, since it is all being covered except dinner, it appears your employer is in compliance.
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