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Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules That Commute Times In Company Owned Vehicles Are Not Compensable

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently gave an answer in Kieninger v. Crown Equipment Corporation to an issue that had long plagued employers—the compensability of employee commute time.  

The issue before the court was whether an employer—in this case Crown Equipment Corporation—was required to compensate employees for their commute time between the employee’s home and the employee’s assigned job site if the employee was driving a company owned vehicle. The Court answered—No. 

The Plaintiffs in this case, 86 Crown Equipment Corporation employees, argued that because they were carrying “necessary and indispensable” tools in the work van they should be compensated for their commutes. The Plaintiffs argued that the vans they were driving to their job sites were also transporting the tools necessary for them to perform their jobs and that the commute therefore constituted a task integral to the performance of their duties. 

Wisconsin’s highest court rejected this argument. The court stated, “whether the employee is in a personal or a company vehicle, he is doing the exact same thing, and no one disputes that the time at issue would not be compensable if [the employee] had driven his own automobile.” The court further noted that to rule the employee’s commute was compensable would render every commute a compensable event. In defending its ruling, the court stated: 

A paralegal who goes home in the evening with the company-provided computer and then travels the next day to a witness’s location to conduct an interview is transporting the resources necessary to do his job. So is every office-worker who brings a file home after work, and then returns at the next morning. And, because there is no logical limit to [the plaintiff’s] argument, so too is anyone who merely drives to his regular place of employment each morning. An employee creates value for his employer, of course, by bringing his physical and mental resources to bear on the company’s business. 

This decision provides much needed clarity for Wisconsin employers that permit their employees to commute to and from work in company-owned vehicles. This decision puts Wisconsin law on par with the federal Employee Commuting Flexibility act (ECFA) of 1996, which clarified the federal standard. Under federal law, employee’s who use employer-owned vehicles to travel to and from home are not entitled to compensation for their commute time when the driving is limited to the normal commuting area that encompasses the employer’s business and is subject to an agreement between the employer and the employee. 

For questions concerning employee compensation or any employment related matter contact OVB Law & Consulting, S.C. by phone at (414) 585-0588 or by email at info@ovblaw.com. Our offices are located at 839 N Jefferson Street, Suite 502, Milwaukee, WI 53202, on the west side of Cathedral Square.

Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this post without seeking legal or other professional advice.

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by Emil Ovbiagele

Emil is an award-wining attorney and the founder of OVB Law & Consulting, S.C. He is known for his knack for creating customized legal and business solutions for his clients.