Kieninger v. Crown Equipment Corp. (Wages)

In Kieninger v. Crown Equipment Corp. (2019 WI 27), the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously held that employers are not required to compensate employees for time spent commuting using the employer’s vehicle.

Crown Corp. allows its technicians to commute between work and home either in their personal vehicles or in company vans. Those commuting in personal vehicles meet at an assigned branch to pick up a company van at the beginning of the day, use the company van to travel between work sites throughout the day, then drop the van off again at the end of the work day and travel home in their personal vehicle. Those commuting in company vans may travel straight from home to various work sites, then straight home at the end of the day. Crown Corp. compensates technicians for all travel between work sites, but does not compensate technicians commuting using company vans for travel time between home and the first and last work sites of the day.

Crown Corp. technician Christopher Kieninger filed the instant class action lawsuit on behalf of similarly situated Crown Corp. employees who choose to commute using company vans. Kieninger argued that Crown Corp. is legally obligated to compensate technicians for the commuting time in company vans because he is transporting Crown Corp. tools to and from a jobsite. Because those tools are an “integral” (Wis. Admin. Code § DWD 272.12(2)(e)1.c.) part of the “principal activities” (§ DWD 272.12(2)(e)1.) technicians engage in during a “workday” (§ DWD 272.12(1)(a)2.), Kieninger argued Crown Corp. must compensate for commute time in company vans under Wis. Stat. § 109.03(1) and Department of Workforce Development rules.

However, Crown Corp. and the court rely on different DWD code to find that commute time, even in company vans, is not compensable. § DWD 272.12(2)(g)2. states plainly that travel between home and work is not work time. Furthermore, since employees commuting in company vans are not “required to report at a meeting place” to pick up tools as exemplified in § DWD 272.12(2)(g)5., this section requiring compensation for carrying tools to a worksite does not apply. The court states that Kieninger’s interpretation would read the statutes and regulations much too broadly, to the point that almost any commuting could be considered compensable. Therefore, Crown Corp. is not obligated to pay employees for commuting time in company vans.