Should lawn care employees be paid for their travel time?

When it comes to paying lawn care employees, there are many ways you can do it. The more complex the process is, the more opportunities there are for problems. As we will see from this discussion on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, keeping things simple with all parts of your operations is always the more preferred method.

One lawn care business owner wrote “my son basically looks after hiring employees for us. The staff mainly consists of college students from the local schools. We were having a conversation last evening and I don’t agree with something and was wondering what you guys think.

The question or topic is:

We have to pick up a few employees and take them back home. This sometimes means an employee will have to leave a job site to drive another employee home because they have a summer class or some various sport activity.

My son thinks we should pay the employees from the time we pick them up until the time we take them back home. That didn’t sit well with me and I started looking into these costs yesterday. What I found was doing this involved pretty high costs. When you calculate for fuel and down time, some of our trucks are only getting 12 mpg. A lot of our landscape work could be 45 minutes to an hour away from where they live.

I pay my employees between $12.00 to $20.00 an hour. Last week alone the transportation costs and what I call down time costs or pay given while work is not being done was pushing $900. That is $3,600 a month! I also supply shirts, hats, jackets, and gloves. Employee is told what shade of pants to buy and where to buy them.

I also supply all rain gear and three employees have company vehicles. I don’t mind them stopping on the way to or from a job site with a company vehicle for personal use but vehicles are not to be used without permission for example to go out for an evening. They get a bonus from time to time as well which I find keeps morale high. I keep an eye on all this using GPS. Not to watchdog the employees but I want to know where all my equipment and vehicles are.

My thought is an employee should be paid from the time they arrive at the job site until the end of the work day at a site. I would pay travel time between job sites.

So is my thinking reasonable and how do I change this without causing problems? This is an oversight on my part. I was simply doing a profitability review and picked up on this and was a bit shocked at the cost.”

A second lawn care business owner shared “with the previous company I worked for, they gave me a company truck to use, which I thought was a great thing. They did the same things as you mentioned giving me a t-shirts, bonuses, etc. For a time we all got paid from the time we got to the shop until the time we got back.

One day, the boss just laid it out there that due to costs, this was going to stop. Yeah some were upset about it but we knew if it was our business that we would’ve done the same thing.

After that, the clock started when we got to the job site and when we left there. I did get to keep my card running as I had to go back to the shop to fill oil buckets and refuel the diesel tanks for the next day before going home. Other than that we only got paid for our time being on site.

These days I do the same with my employees. The clock starts when we get to the first site and stops when we leave the last site.”

A third responded “the total an employee costs you is something that can be very easy to underestimate. Some things to keep in mind is that we have to match their retirement (Social Security) 7.65%, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) 3.65%, Workman’s Compensation $0.50, Disability Insurance, and Unemployment Insurance. Your employee who picks up and delivers that employee has doubled the time of the employee they were transporting.

If they worked for say ABC Vending, they would have to get to work on their own and be paid from the time they started their route until they returned from their route. There would be no down time for equipment and 2 employees, no extra fuel costs, and no need to cover the additional expense by increasing the costs to the consumer.

How do you change this policy without causing problems? I think it is a lose-lose situation. Here there is such an entitlement culture that if you do it once, they feel it is their right and your duty to continue the practice.

Honesty and a direct explanation to the ‘entitled’ of your concerns is probably your best out.”

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