DOL: Paying Truckers For Off-Duty Time In Sleeper Berth Is “Unnecessarily Burdensome”

Washington D.C. – New guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) reverses course on recent interpretations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as it relates to when truck drivers must be compensated for time spent in the sleeper berth.

In an opinion letter released on Monday and signed by Administrator, Cheryl M. Stanton, WHD offered new guidance to trucking companies as to its obligations of when to compensate a truck driver for time spent in the sleeper berth.

At issue was recent interpretations which only allowed carriers to exclude (from compensable time) up to 8 hours of sleeping time in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time for trips under 24 hours.

 

WHD has concluded that this interpretation is “unnecessarily burdensome for employers” and instead adopts a “straightforward reading of the plain language” of the law.

WHD said the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively nonworking time that is not compensable.

The new guidance reverts back to earlier interpretations of the FLSA which state in part:

Hours of work are not considered to include … sleeping in a sleeping berth … where such periods are of sufficient length to be used effectively by the employee for the intended purpose, and the employee is actually relieved of all duties and responsibilities.

WHD said regulations draw a clear distinction between on-duty sleeping time and non-working time when the employer permits the employee to sleep in “adequate facilities.”

However, WHD said a driver must be compensated for time when that driver is “engaged to wait,” or on-duty, when “waiting is an integral part of the job.”

 

WHD guidance pointed out a truck driver may often be “engaged to wait” during “unpredictable” periods or periods “usually of short duration” in which the driver’s time “belongs to and is controlled by the employer.”

WHD said this time must be compensated.


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Conversely, employers need not compensate a truck driver for time spent “waiting to be engaged.”

This non-compensable time is defined as periods when the facts show the truck driver is “completely relieved from duty” and the periods are “long enough to enable him to use the time effectively for his own purposes.”

Quick Response

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) were each quick to respond to the new WHD guidance.

In a statement, ATA president Chris Spear commended WHD for the new opinion.

“ATA welcomes today’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” Spear said.

 

Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA disagreed with the opinion and stated:

“A primary duty of a truck driver’s job is waiting, but unfortunately they are paid by the mile and nothing for their time. If drivers were simply paid for all time worked, this issue would not likely have been brought to court.”

Read WHD’s full opinion HERE.

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