Written by By Galen T. Shimoda and Erika R. C. Sembrano
Overtime may or may not be owed to truck drivers depending on many, many different factors both under federal law and California law.
Under federal law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires overtime be paid to certain types of employees. The FLSA also lists out which employees are exempt from this overtime requirement. One set of exempt employees are employees of a motor carrier, also called the “Motor Carrier Act Exemption” (MCA). The MCA is found in and elaborated upon by the FLSA, Code of Federal Regulations, and Department of Labor guidelines. Motor carriers are generally defined as providers of transportation for compensation. The most common example of employees of motor carriers are truck drivers whose employer’s business is transporting items and getting paid for it. In general, for a truck driver to be exempt from overtime wages, his/her duties must directly affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles on the public highways in transportation in interstate or foreign commerce. Because this is a federal law, it is important to note the “interstate or foreign commerce” requirement. In a general sense, federal law is allowed to govern over activities that are connected to or relate to more than one (1) state. For example, if a driver is routinely driving across state lines as part of his job duties, this is a large indicator that the MCA may apply. However, even though a truck driver may not be driving across state lines but could be called upon to do so at any time, it is possible that the MCA will apply to that truck driver. Courts analyzing this situation have found in favor of, and against, drivers depending on the particular facts of the case.
Another item to note is that the MCA actually encompasses more people than just truck drivers. The MCA actually covers “drivers’ helpers,” “loaders,” and “mechanics.” These are terms of art, however, and whether the MCA will apply to certain people will depend on their duties as opposed to their job titles. Also, their duties must directly affect the safety of the operation of the motor vehicles. This is different than, for example, salesmen, billing clerks, filing clerks, and superintendents who do not directly affect the motor vehicles themselves. Additionally, under the MCA, there is a week-by-week analysis into the affected employee’s job duties. If for one week, the employee is performing work that directly affects the safety of the motor vehicle in interstate commerce, and for the following week, the employee does not do anything close to that, then it is arguable that the employee is only exempt from overtime for the first week and that overtime is due to the employee in the second week.
An article will not be able to encompass all of the requirements and details of the MCA. It goes without saying that the inquiry into whether truck drivers, or other employees, are covered by the MCA is extremely fact-intensive. California law is also extremely fact-intensive but it includes different requirements for an overtime exemption.
California law also requires, generally, that overtime be paid to certain types of employees. Like federal law, California law also dictates which employees are not entitled to overtime and provides a “motor carriers exemption” that has two (2) parts, meaning that if an employee satisfied either part, the exemption will apply. One part is similar to the MCA, although not the same: it applies to truck drivers who drive a vehicle at least 10,000 lbs and travel across state lines (or could travel across state lines). Such an “interstate commerce” requirement is similar to the MCA. Thus, like the MCA, whether a vehicle travels across state lines within this exemption is a fact-intensive inquiry.
The second part of the motor carriers exemption under California law contains a different set of requirements, largely defined by the California Code of Regulations, California Vehicle Code, Wage Orders, and California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) guidelines. Generally, this exemption applies to truck drivers (and not helpers, loaders, mechanics like the MCA) who – essentially – fit into one of the categories listed in the California Vehicle Code. Some of these categories include trucks with three (3) or more axles and are more than 10,000 lbs; buses; combination of truck and trailer that is over forty (40) feet when combined; and vehicles transporting hazardous materials. On the other hand, drivers of trucks weighing less than 26,000 lbs and with only two (2) axles are typically not subject to the overtime exemption (although there are exceptions to this exemption!).
As is evident by this article, overtime exemptions for truck drivers are available but not easily determined. It is entirely possible (and, quite frankly, understandable) that a motor carrier employer has wrongly assumed that the overtime exemption applies to its truck drivers. Ultimately, whether the federal or California exemption from overtime wages applies to truck drivers will be a primarily fact-intensive inquiry with many different aspects of the drivers’ duties analyzed.
Please take note that this article is not intended to serve as a comprehensive review or analysis of either the federal or California exemptions. If you are a truck driver or have questions about the overtime exemption (either federal or California) as applied to truck drivers, please contact a wage and hour attorney to discuss your situation.
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