Under the FLSA Truckers Are Entitled to Sleeper Berth Compensation

truck drivers

Earlier this month, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling involving carrier CRST that truck drivers working in teams must be compensated under federal minimum wage laws for time spent in the sleeper cab even if they aren’t sleeping. The question posed in the lower court and on appeal was whether “the time long-haul drivers spend in the sleeper berth is ‘on-duty’ time within the meaning of Department of Labor (DOL) regulations and, if so, whether CRST must compensate a driver who is on duty for 24 hours if the time that the driver spends in the sleeper berth is more than eight hours within a full 24-hour period.”

Employers under DOL compensation standards can deduct up to eight hours of sleeping time from any 24-hour period when computing an employee’s pay. Meanwhile, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s (DOT) “hours of service regulations,” each driver can be “on duty” for up to 14 hours at a time, during which time they can drive for up to 11 hours and spend the remaining three hours on non-driving responsibilities such as loading and unloading. Following those 14 hours, they must take at least 10 hours of “off-duty” time.

Most of the off-duty time is spent in the sleeper berth while the other team member drives. DOT regulations also expressly exclude time spent sleeping in a sleeper berth from “on-duty” hours.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Juan Carlos Montoya, alleged that CRST’s refusal to compensate him for hours spent in the sleeper berth beyond the DOL’s eight excludable hours resulted in him being paid less than minimum wage in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

CRST maintained that Montoya’s and similarly situated drivers’ time in the sleeper berth should not be considered employment under the FLSA since such time is primarily for the driver’s benefit, not the employer’s, and because the DOT excludes sleeper berth time from on-duty time.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that time spent in the sleeper berth by the second driver who was not behind the wheel was not actual free time. It cited a Supreme Court interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act defining work as “physical or mental exertion, whether burdensome or not, controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business.” This has become known as the “predominant benefit test,” with the time spent accruing mainly to the employer’s benefit.

Bottom line: Any carrier subject to both Department of Transportation and Department of Labor regulations must ensure that it complies with wage laws, not just DOT safety regulations.

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