The Department of Labor has issued new guidance on compensating truck drivers for time spent in sleeper berths while off-duty.
The upshot is DOL now holds that drivers need not be compensated for any time in which “drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth…. [as this is] presumptively non-working time that is not compensable."
The guidance came out on July 22 in an opinion letter signed by Cheryl Stanton, Administrator of DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. These letters are used to officially address issues related to the Fair Labor Standards Act by speaking to how a given law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual r entity that requested the letter.
Under prior guidance, WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time “may be excluded from hours worked where ‘adequate facilities’ were furnished, only up to 8 hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.”
By contrast, WHD has now concluded that that earlier interpretation is “unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation…”
But there is a “however” attached to the new opinion: “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes,” stated WHD.
“For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked,” the agency added.
The American Trucking Associations applauded the new guidance. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear in a statement.”
Presumably, the court cases Spear referenced were two involving well-known truckload carriers. Earlier this year, a federal court in Arkansas recently a decision from last fall allowing a class action suit to move forward against Tontitown, Arkansas-based Pam Transport for alleged violations of the FLSA. Separately, Omaha-based Werner Enterprises was sued by drivers in its student-driver program who alleged they had not earned the minimum wage while in the program.
Spear noted that ATA commends the Department of Labor “for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.”