how should I pay an employee for a 3-day trip?

A reader writes:

I am the supervisor of a part-time salesperson, Mary, who is paid an hourly wage. She has been with us 6 months. Mary works set hours in our office (5 hours per day, 4 days a week), contacting and following up on sales leads.

Mary was asked and has agreed to go to a 3-day trade show out of town, at which our company is exhibiting. She will help set up and tear down the exhibit, and work at trade show as a salesperson. The question that has me stumped is how to compensate her for her time/work at the trade show. The company will cover her transportation, food and lodging. My boss, who is the owner of the company, wants to pay Mary only her hourly rate during the times that she is either selling at the trade show or setting up/tearing down, and not when Mary is traveling or at meals. However, I know a lot of “work” goes on during these supposedly “non-work” times, and also that Mary has to arrange child care at significant cost to her (Mary’s husband works out of town and Mary sees him only on weekends, so he can’t help out with the child care). I advocate giving Mary an extra “trade show bonus” on top of her hourly rate.

What do you think would be the right thing to do? We value Mary and want her to grow with us. Part of the value of her involvement in this trade show is educational, and our company does have a policy of paying for job-related education.

At a minimum, I’d pay her for a full day of work each day that she’s there, meaning paying her for eight hours per day. If she’ll be working more than eight hours a day, I’d figure out how many hours she’ll be working and then round up, fairly generously, for the reasons you say. If you can afford it, I also think it’s reasonable to decide to give her a bonus for traveling, simply because there’s hassle involved in being away from home overnight.

There’s also federal law, which requires that employees be paid for travel time that occurs during their regular work hours, and some state laws, which require it for any travel time.

Another thing to look at: What have you done for other employees in similar situations? You want to treat people reasonably similarly.

Whatever you decide, I’d say the principle you want to keep in mind is that you don’t want to nickel and dime someone who’s doing something for work that she wouldn’t be doing otherwise.

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Jonathan*

    I had a job that used to send me out of town regularly (though I was FT exempt). We did not get any extra pay, but we were given a couple of paid days off either right after the trip or at some point in the month or two following.

    I'm not sure you'd want to do this with an hourly employee, but I just thought I'd share.

  2. Anonymous*

    I would recommend paying her based on the hours the trade show is open to exhibitors, plus a flat per diem for each day, I call it travel pay.

  3. Christine Witt*

    I always pay well for trade show days. These days are long and difficult and they are so important to businesses. The extra pay probably isn't going to be a big deal to the overall financial situation of the business and it is going to make the employee feel valued for their hard work.

    (This is different from regular business travel, or a sales trip.)

    I usually forego the hourly and come up with a daily rate. Travel days are paid the same daily rate. An additional amount per diem is allowed for meals.

    I've heard that some companies will send those attending trade shows out for manicures in the days before, too. A nice touch – and something that makes a difference at the show.

  4. Neil*

    On a similar topic, I used to work at an inbound sales job that was straight commission (there was a miniscule draw.) The company would require us to go on training trips at manufacturer HQs usually in other states. I would fight this tooth and nail as these trips generally constituted 2-5 days out of my life, and because I wasn't selling while I was at training, I was essentially paying for my own training that I didn't ask for. I had enough clout in the company that I was able to get out of this, but I was about the only one – all of the other sales staff had to go.

    What do you guys think about this context? Legit? Good practice?

  5. The Engineer*

    Yes. Minimum is 8 hours. The owner seems to have the legal minimum covered, but has only the short range view of Mary's employment.

    If the OP wants Mary to stay with them then she needs to be treated fairly for her part in this event. I would pay at least the 'bonus' mentioned, but I would probably pay for all hours traveling and give Mary a per diem for meals with the understanding that she isn't required to eat with the 'company.' I.e. it is her own time. If meals are going to be planning or strategy meetings as well as food, then I'd pay for that time as well.

    Another option would be to cover the "considerable" child care costs and go with the owners method of pay.

  6. Anonymous*

    First day – pay her from the time she leaves her house to the time she retires to her hotel room that evening.
    Second day – pay from the time she leaves her hotel room in the morning to the time she retires to her hotel room in the evening.
    Third day – pay her from the time she leaves her hotel room in the morning until the time she returns to her home.

  7. Susan*

    Thanks for the quick response to my question, and for the helpful advice. I'm so glad to get the advice in time to resolve the situation for this upcoming trade show.

    A couple of points: Mary was informed when hired that trade show travel would be a part of this job. Also, Mary's position was a newly created "experiment" in seeing how a part-time inside sales person would work in our company, so we have no precedent for this situation.

    I like the "per diem" terminology and idea (as opposed to "bonus"), since this is a part of her job.

    Also, thanks for the link to the DOL site info. That was helpful, too!

  8. Anonymous*

    I would pay her her hourly wage for all her time spent setting up and working at the booth plus the regular GSA per diem for wherever it is you're sending her.
    I wouldn't make pay adjustments on account of her personal life as everyone's situation is different and you have no control over that.

  9. Anonymous*

    Travel time should be paid. She's not free to be doing anything else during that time is she? Of course not. She's trapped doing the company's bidding, and her conduct is representative of the company during that time, so she should be paid for the reputation she is carrying.

    Meals should also be reimbursed. It is completely impossible for a business traveler to adhere to their personal budget for meals when traveling. A simple breakfast of toast and juice could easily cost $10+–way more than a person would pay for the same meal at home. Since there is no way for the traveler to avoid this expense, the employer should pay. If the meal is an official business meal such as a dinner to entertain prospective clients, then the employee should be reimbursed for their time as well, since they are working and representing the company during that time, not merely eating.

    Other incidentals, such as the cost of water in the airport terminal, should also be reimbursed, since the traveler has no way of avoiding that expense either, and expecting a person to go for hours without water is unreasonable. The employer should also be prepared to reimburse the receipts for all of the employee's luggage, since all airlines charge for it one way or the other, separately from the ticket, these days, and any meal they have to purchase in flight.

    The simple rule of thumb is: if you were going on this trip instead of her, would you consider a particular expense a personal one, or a business one? I'm betting if it were you or your boss, you would consider all of your expenses to be business expenses!

  10. The Gold Digger*

    Trade shows are brutal. If you're not at home, you're at work. Even if you're eating, if you are with your boss or with customers, you are working. If you're at the hotel, you're probably catching up on your email or phone calls.

    Don't nickel and dime this lady. Either give her comp time or pay her for a long day. Plus give her combat pay for the ugly, oversized shirt you're going to make her wear in the booth. :)

  11. Anonymous*

    Whenever we had meetings, our hourly employees were paid for travel time as well as the number of hours that were scheduled each day (i.e. meetings occurred from 8am to say, 6 pm). Our meals were always covered expenses, but the rule for getting paid during a dinner after the conclusion of the day's meetings was that if it was mandatory and department-wide, it was considered on the clock. If it was a free night and people just got together to go to dinner, it was unpaid (although the meal was still expensable). We didn't mind these meetings since we ended up with a lot of OT those weeks…

  12. Anonymous*

    You dont want to nickel and dime the employee to the point where they start to feel that being sent on these trade shows (or away for training or any other type of business trip) is screwing them and costing them time and money. People dont generally like business trips to begin with and having the feeling that when you have to go on one the company is screwing you over with your paycheck just makes it all that much worse. However, you dont want to be so generous that it becomes a financial burden to the organization to the point where the ROI is negatively affected.

    First you should have proper travel policies in place so there is no ambiguity about what is paid for and how, for example, meals. Second, for non-exempt employees you should require that they keep careful records of their trip so it can be determined what was work time and compensable and what wasnt. The DOLs attitude toward paying employees is that an employee should be paid for all time that work was done which benefits the organization. Telling the employee that theyll be paid for 8 hours each day when they will be, in fact, working 10 hours a day probably violates DOL regulations for pay. There are also regulations for travel time, so this shouldnt be ignored.

    The simple thing is to have the proper policies in place and have the employee keep detailed records while on the trip, that way they can be paid properly for the work and the organization wont violate any state or federal regulations.

  13. Anonymous*

    While a manicure would be a lovely perk, setting up and breaking down a booth does a number on your nails like nothing else!

    I am elligible to earn overtime after 41 hours per week. When I travel for work, my manager is (like the OP) generous and understanding about the fact that being on the road while working an event like that is taxing. Even going back to a hotel room at the end of the day never quite feels like "the end of the day."

    When I complete my weekly timesheet after a trip, he encourages me to list my standard hours for M-F (9am to 5pm, even the exhibit hall was open from 12pm to 6pm, for example) so that I'm not having fewer hours accounted for while performing out-of-the-ordinary duties. He also recommends listing my door-to-door hours on travel days, meaning that time spent waiting in the airport, whether it's a Tuesday morning or a Saturday afternoon, is not treated as my own personal time being whiled away.

    I am also reimbursed for meals, within reason. One thing I didn't know, however, until 1+ year on the job, is that I could have wireless internet in the hotel room covered by my T&E. I do use my laptop to keep tabs on work e-mail, but for me, catching up on online reading, watching favorite shows that I might have missed while keeping strange hours during the trip, or chatting with friends online is a simple and relatively inexpensive comfort when I'm away from home. I wish our T&E policies had been more clear on that detail! I was starting to dread business trips because I got so bored and lonely in my hotel room at night. You might tell Mary that you'll cover the hotel's internet charge (if there is one) or something similar so she can stay connected while she's away from home.

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