Q and A: G&A HR Expert Provides Answers to Common HR-Related Questions from Construction Companies

May 8, 2023 | Iowa’s Construction Industry Sees Opportunities and Challenges Tracy Winn, Client Success Manager, G&A Partners, twinn@gnapartners.com

Tracy Winn is a client success manager with G&A Partners, a professional employer organization with locations across the U.S. Winn, who works with clients in the Construction industry, enjoys teaching clients how to handle employee relations so that they can stay compliant with HR regulations. 

Tracy is sharing some of the most common questions our HR experts receive from Construction companies and how to approach these situations.

For out-of-town jobs, should Construction companies pay their workers for the time they travel?

For hourly (or nonexempt) employees, you must pay them for travel if it is during their normal work hours. For example, if your employee’s normal workday is 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and the worker is traveling to another town from 9 a.m.-noon, then you must pay the employee for that time. 

However, if the same employee is traveling out of town after 5 p.m., then you typically would not pay the worker for that time.

Weekends vary slightly. If your employee typically works a Monday-Friday schedule and you request that the worker travel on Sunday, you must pay the employee for time traveled during the normal shift hours. Using the same employee in the previous example, since that person works 8 a.m.-5 p.m., you would pay them for any travel between those hours.

Another common scenario is for workers to meet at a warehouse each morning, then drive together to the jobsite. Do companies have to pay their workers for the travel time in the car? Also, can they pay them a different rate for the time traveling in the car versus on the job?

This happens often within the Construction industry. For example, a team might meet at the warehouse at the start of a shift, travel to a local worksite for the morning, then travel to another worksite after a few hours. Generally, if the travel falls within the workday, that time is compensable. 

However, if you have workers who travel from home to a worksite that is within a reasonable distance, then that is regarded as a commute and is not compensable. The caveat is that the worksite must be within a reasonable distance from home. If you’re requesting an employee drive to a worksite 2-3 hours away, then you would pay for any time traveled during the normal workday.

Technically, you can pay your employees a different rate for the time traveled, but this is not considered a best practice. We recommend to our clients that they pay the same rate, especially as it can become difficult to accurately track time traveled between jobsites and gets confusing when calculating the overtime rate for that particular week. 

Do companies have to compensate their workers for time spent waiting to work on a job?

There are two common phrases to consider in this scenario: are your employees engaged to wait or waiting to engage? 

Engaged to wait means that your workers are on the job and waiting to begin working. For example, perhaps your team is waiting for scaffolding to be set up at a worksite before they can begin their job. In that scenario, you would pay your workers for that time.

Waiting to engage means that your workers are not required to be at work or onsite but are waiting to be called in to work. They can be engaged in other activities at home, for example, while they wait. In this case, their time is not compensable, so you would not need to pay them for the hours they waited.

It’s important to understand state laws that can impact these scenarios. In California, for example, employers must compensate employees for a minimum number of hours if they call them into work. Additionally, some employers choose to provide some compensation for time spent on call to make up for the “hassle.” 

Work-related injuries are common within the Construction industry. How can companies prevent an employee from claiming they were hurt on the job when the employer believes they hurt themselves outside of work? 

The important point to remember in this situation is that when a worker files a claim, it sets off a process that includes an investigation to determine what happened. The adjuster will work to determine how and when the injury occurred and handle the claim accordingly. Therefore, I always advise my clients to let the employee file the workers’ compensation claim and allow the process to unfold. 

Along the same lines, companies often have workers with restrictions on what they can do, whether from an injury they received at work or at home. Sometimes, though, the employee doesn’t adhere to those restrictions. How should the employer approach this situation?

If an employee is injured and has restrictions on what they can do at work, regardless of whether the restrictions are coming from workers’ compensation or an independent doctor, it’s important you follow those restrictions. For example, perhaps you have an employee who can’t lift more than 10 pounds due to an injury. The employee may wave off the restriction and say, “I’m fine. I can do this.” But if the employee gets hurt or sues, you can be found liable.

Therefore, it’s important to make accommodations for employees with restrictions. By knowing the restrictions, accommodating them, and ensuring the employee follows through, employers are not only protecting themselves in the event of a lawsuit or additional claims but also protecting the employee from further injury. 

For temporary or seasonal layoffs, what is the impact on employees who have benefits with our company? And can they file for unemployment?

Typically, benefits cease for an employee at the end of the month in which their full-time employment comes to an end. However, most plans include a clause that if an employee comes back or is rehired within a certain time, then the employee can be reinstated on the plan immediately. The key for employers is to know the policy outlined in your medical plan and follow it. 

Let’s say your plan states that employees who are rehired within six months are immediately reinstated on the plan. Seasonal employees who were terminated for four months and are now being called back to work, could receive benefits immediately.

want your workers available to return to your company if you’ll need them for another job soon. Employees can file for unemployment during seasonal or temporary layoffs, but they must be “job attached.” This means that the employee knows you will call them back to work, therefore they may not need to actively seek a new job. 

Each state has different time limits on how long a worker can be job attached, but remember that unemployment ultimately is a decision made between the state and the employee. As the employer, you don’t make decisions on unemployment and shouldn’t make unemployment-related promises. The state makes the final determination. 

Can we have a company travel policy that dictates what employees are permitted to do on work trips? 

Many companies have extensive travel and reimbursement policies to outline whether employees are reimbursed for meals, what type of cars they can rent, whether first-class travel is permitted, and more. 

These policies can be helpful, but keep in mind that you must be willing to consistently enforce the policy to make it effective. If your workers know you won’t follow through, they’re more likely to test the boundaries or ignore the policy. Additionally, if you only apply the policy to some workers, then you open up the company to potential discrimination claims. 

Regardless of whether you choose to develop and implement a travel policy, here are some best practices to follow when sending your workers out of town: 

Never require employees to share a hotel room. If you can’t afford separate hotel rooms for each employee, you may want to reconsider your travel plans or reprice your job. 

You can’t dictate what your employees do in their hotel room after hours, as employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, you can set guidelines and expectations for your workers when they are traveling out of town. 

Ensure you have established a sexual harassment policy and that you are clear with your workers that you take it seriously. 

About Tracy 

Tracy has been helping companies with HR – from benefits administration to payroll to managing employee relations – for more than 25 years. She graduated from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor’s in Business Management and carries SHRM-SCP credentials through the Society of Human Resource Management. 

Filing for unemployment can be complicated within the Construction industry. It’s understandable that you