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Trucking Service Must Pay Drivers Waiting in Sleeper Berths

Takeaway: Despite this decision, the Fair Labor Standards Act has a broad overtime exemption that excludes most long-haul truck drivers from overtime pay.

Drivers must receive minimum wages for all hours worked, including hours in their sleeper berth when not sleeping, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided.

Motor carriers CRST Expedited and CRST International (collectively, “CRST”) provide trucking services across North America through a driver-training program for aspiring long-haul truck drivers. CRST’s team-based driver training program hires and trains inexperienced drivers in teams.

The team-driving model assigns to each truck two drivers who take turns driving the vehicle. CRST keeps its trucks in near continuous motion for multiple days, while complying with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations limiting driving-time hours.

The DOT regulations specify that a driver may be on duty for a maximum of 14 hours at a time. Within this 14-hour period, a driver may drive only up to 11 hours; the remaining three hours may be spent taking care of nondriving responsibilities, such as vehicle loading or unloading. After 14 hours of on-duty time, a driver must take at least 10 consecutive hours of time off duty under DOT regulations, during which the driver cannot drive, load or unload the vehicle, or have other responsibilities relating to the truck or its equipment.

CRST’s team-driving approach typically results in one person driving while the other driver is off duty in the truck’s sleeper berth. The drivers can then switch off when the off-duty driver has completed the required 10-hour period. Drivers regularly take more than 10 hours of berth time at a stretch. Some drivers spend up to 16 hours in the sleeper berth. Regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provide that employers can exclude a sleeping period of no more than eight hours per day when calculating an employee’s compensation.

The sleeper berth typically contains bunk beds, a sitting area, and a microwave or small refrigerator, but does not have a bathroom. Sleeper berths must, at a minimum, measure 24 inches in width, 75 inches in length and 24 inches in height from the top mattress to the ceiling.

When in the sleeper berth, drivers are at liberty to pursue their own activities within the confines of the space and facilities. Drivers can make food, connect to the internet if connectivity is available, read, watch television or movies, and sleep.

CRST calculates team drivers’ pay according to the total number of miles dispatched to the team for the shipment. Each member of the driving team is paid one-half of the total number of miles attributed to the shipment at a rate of pay that corresponds with the driver’s level of experience, with less experienced drivers receiving a lower rate of pay per mile.

Thus, the hourly wage for the drivers can be calculated by dividing their received pay by the total number of hours worked during the pay period. CRST does not count time spent in the sleeper berth as hours worked and so does not include the sleeper berth hours in the calculation of the driver’s hourly wage. If the sleeper berth time is counted as hours worked, CRST’s drivers receive an hourly wage that falls short of the minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In 2016, a group of CRST’s trainee long-haul truck drivers sued CRST under the FLSA, claiming that they were not paid the minimum wage for all time spent working. They filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. CRST appealed to the 1st Circuit. On appeal, CRST claimed that the drivers were completely relieved of driving duties while in the sleeper berth and thus CRST had no obligation to pay for the time.

The 1st Circuit noted that the berths may not be large enough to comfortably stand or sit and were subject to engine and road noise. It likened the time in a narrowly confined space to time spent by employees required to wait or remain on call in a fixed location. When an employer imposes significant limitations on the employee’s freedom from work for its benefit, the FLSA requires payment of wages for such time. The 1st Circuit thus upheld summary judgment for the drivers.

Montoya v. CRST Expedited Inc., 1st Cir., No. 21-1125 (Dec. 12, 2023).

Jeffrey Rhodes is an attorney with McInroy, Rigby & Rhodes LLP in Arlington, Va.


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