The FLSA Motor Carrier Exemption

Interstate truckers spend long hours on the road, away from home, under intense time pressure to make on-time deliveries. It is no surprise that they often work more than 40 hours a week. But are they entitled to overtime for that work? The answer is often no, under the motor carrier exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act. As with the other blue collar exemptions, however, the devil is in the details.

The motor carrier exemption states that the FLSA’s overtime requirements do not apply to “any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service…” In other words, if the Department of Transportation has authority over the individual, the Department of Labor does not.

Not all workers in the logistics and trucking industry are covered by the relevant Department of Transportation regulations, and there are several factors which must be met for this exemption to apply:

  1. The employer qualifies as a “motor carrier” or “motor private carrier” under the Department of Transportation regulations;

  2. The employee’s duties affect the safety of a motor vehicle used in transportation on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce; and

  3. The motor vehicle in question weighs at least 10,000 pounds.

If even one of these factors is not met, the employee is eligible for overtime pay whenever he or she works more than forty hours in a workweek.

At the outset, this exemption only applies to employees who work for companies that are “motor carriers” or “private motor carriers” under the Department of Transportation regulations. This means that a mechanic who works for an independent motor garage will not qualify as exempt because his employer is not a motor carrier or motor private carrier, while another mechanic who performs the same duties and works directly for a trucking company may be exempt.  

Even so, not all employees of motor carriers or private motor carriers are exempt. The exemption only covers employees whose regular job activities “affect the safety” of the motor vehicles – this includes drivers, driver’s helpers, mechanics, and loaders. This factor is fairly strictly construed.  For example, an individual who is responsible for moving equipment around the warehouse – but who does not actually load any trucks – will not qualify as exempt. Moreover, the employee must regularly perform work affecting the safety of the vehicle truck, and just occasionally working on the truck is not enough. The exemption is also limited based on the type of truck at issue.  It does not apply to individuals who drive, or work on, small trucks weighing less than 10,000 pounds, GVWR.

Finally, the exemption includes an interstate commerce requirement.  In basic terms, the exemption requires that the vehicles take trips across state lines or to foreign countries. Not every trip must cross a state line, but a driver whose routes are all within the same state, or who very rarely drives to another state, must be paid overtime. Many lawsuits have been filed on this point, and determining whether a particular individual’s job duties are sufficiently “interstate” in nature is often a hotly contested question of fact.

Determining whether a specific individual fits within the motor carrier exemption often requires a detailed analysis of that particular individual’s job duties and expectations. As with other FLSA exemptions, the penalties for misclassification can be costly indeed, and workers who were improperly treated as overtime exempt may be eligible for a significant amount of back wages, penalties, and attorneys’ fees.

If you have any questions about the motor carrier exemption, any other FLSA exemptions, or wage and hour law in general, call (504) 267-0777 or email Charles Stiegler today.