News Release

Court of Appeals affirms L&I position: Workers must be paid for required work travel

November 02, 2021
#21-034

TACOMA — In a unanimous decision, the state Court of Appeals affirmed a Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) decision ordering the Port of Tacoma to pay workers for all travel time on work trips to China and Texas.

The decision confirms L&I’s longstanding administrative policy which provides interpretation and guidance to employers in Washington related to employee travel and other issues.

“Paying workers for their time is a basic value. This case reaffirms the worker’s right to be paid when their employer requires them to travel out of town for the job,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “All employers need to make sure their travel policies reflect this decision to ensure they’re following the law.”

In the past, some employers applied a less protective federal standard that excludes certain travel time outside of normal business hours. The new court decision makes clear, however, employers must pay for all travel time.

Trips to China, Texas

In 2017, the Port of Tacoma arranged two trips to China to see cargo cranes built. A third trip, to Texas, took place for training. Four employees were involved in the trips, and they were paid eight hours a day, straight time, for the travel.

The employees filed wage complaints with L&I for the balance of unpaid travel time. They claimed time at airports and time spent in flight. In October 2017, the agency ordered the Port pay nearly $8,800 with interest as a result of the investigation.

A three-judge panel of state Court of Appeals Division II issued its ruling recently. Writing for the panel, Judge Bernard F. Veljacic confirmed that travel time for out-of-town business is “hours worked,” and not like a daily commute. He said L&I’s interpretation was, “…consistent with the plain meaning of the regulation.”

The administrative policy on hours worked has been consistent for decades, and includes substantial guidance about travel time. L&I recently updated the policy to provide additional help to employers.

How much the Port workers will be paid remains an issue. The Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to decide that issue. The Port did not file an appeal in Port of Tacoma v. Sacks by an Oct. 21 deadline, making the appeals court decision final.

More information about getting paid is on the L&I web site. Employers and workers may also call 360-902-5316 or 1-866-219-7321, or send questions to ESGeneral@Lni.wa.gov.

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For media information:

Matthew Erlich, Public Affairs, 360-902-6508

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