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Trucking Companies Do Need Not to Pay Drivers for Off-Duty Time in Sleeper Berths

             The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”) has set forth new guidelines for compensating long-haul truck drivers for off-duty time spent in sleeper berths. Under a recent DOL opinion letter, employers need not pay drivers for time they are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in adequate sleeping facilities such as a sleeper berth.FN1 In the opinion letter, the DOL set aside its previous guidance that (1) set an eight-hour daily maximum exclusion for sleeping time on trips of at least twenty-four hours, and (2) prohibited exclusions for sleeping time for trips under twenty-four hours, reasoning such rules were “unnecessarily burdensome for employers.”FN2

            The DOL’s guidance provides clarity for employers in the trucking industry. Because a key question will be whether employees may use time spent in sleeper berths “effectively for [their] own purposes,” or instead must remain on call, study job-related documents, or do paperwork,FN3 employers with long-haul drivers should re-visit their policies to ensure they clearly set forth expectations for drivers during off-hours. Employers should also ensure their pay practices comply with state laws and regulations.

Footnotes:

FN1:   See DOL Opinion Letter FLSA2019-10, which analyzed a motor carrier that employed drivers on multi-day long-haul trips and who spent upwards of twelve hours a day in a sleeping berth, without interruption and totally relieved from work duties. The drivers in question were exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirements under the Motor Carrier Exemption, 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). (See FLSA2019-10 at 1 n.1.)

FN2:   FLSA2019-10 at 3. The DOL further reasoned that its guidance provides a “straightforward” reading of 29 C.F.R. § 785.41, which provides as follows:

Any work which an employee  is required to perform while traveling must, of course, be counted as hours worked. An employee who drives a truck, bus, automobile, boat or airplane, or an employee  who is required to ride therein as an assistant or helper, is working while riding, except during bona fide meal periods or when he is permitted to sleep in adequate facilities furnished by the employer.

FLSA2019-10 at 3; 29 C.F.R. § 785.41.

FN3:   FLSA2019-10 at 3 n.4 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 785.16(a)).