Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US
Greg Mansell

Greg Mansell

February 1, 2022 03:00 PM

This article was originally published on 7/23/20 and updated on 1/1/22.

Are you a truck driver? Do you work for a trucking company? If so, you may not be receiving all the wages you are entitled to. Read this article to learn more about the minimum wage, break time, and overtime laws that apply to truck drivers.

Truck drivers play an essential role in our national economy by transporting goods and enabling our local stores to keep their shelves stocked with products we rely on in our day-to-day lives. Particularly in the midst of a global pandemic, truck drivers frequently work long hours to ensure these essential goods are delivered to those who need them. However, truck drivers and other employees of trucking companies are often vulnerable to wage violations that result in underpayment. You work hard and even risk your health and safety to perform your job each day, and the Wage and Hour Attorneys at Mansell Law will fight for your right to receive the wages you are entitled to.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law that governs the payment of wages. The FLSA requires employees to be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and it requires employees to be paid overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 per workweek. In this article, your Ohio Wage and Hour Lawyer explains the most common wage violations among truck drivers and employees of trucking companies.

Minimum Wage Violations: Pay by the Mile or by the Task

Truck drivers are frequently paid by the mile or on a piece-rate basis (such as by the trip). While this pay structure is permissible, a violation of state and federal minimum wage laws occurs if the total wages you receive for the day divided by your hours worked fall below the federal minimum wage.

Example: Bob is paid $100.00 to make a single round-trip delivery. It takes Bob a total of 8 hours to make this round-trip delivery. Bob’s hourly rate for his 8 total hours of work is $12.50/hour, so no minimum wage violation has occurred.

Example: Sue is paid $0.30 per mile. Sue drives 200 miles round-trip to make a delivery, for a total of $60.00. However, inclement weather and traffic accidents delay Sue’s trip. She ends up spending a total of 9 hours making this delivery. Sue’s hourly rate is $6.67/hour, which is a violation of federal and Ohio minimum wage laws.

When calculating your total hours worked for the day, you should also include the time you spend performing non-driving work (such as inspecting cargo or waiting for cargo to be loaded or unloaded). Since pay structures that compensate employees by the mile fail to take this time into consideration, the addition of this non-driving time into your calculation of wages owed could add up to a minimum wage violation.

Misclassification as Independent Contractor

Independent contractors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage requirements. This means they do not need to be paid at least minimum wage for each hour worked or receive overtime for hours worked over 40 per workweek. However, truck drivers are frequently misclassified as independent contractors when they are actually employees under the law. Employers misclassify employees primarily as a means to save money and avoid the FLSA’s wage and hour mandates.

Whether a truck driver has been misclassified as an independent contractor is a complex question that examines numerous factors. Who owns the truck you drive? Who makes your route schedules or assigns routes? Are you allowed to drive for multiple companies at the same time? Do you have the ability to accept or reject assignments? These will all be relevant questions regarding whether you will be considered an employee or an independent contractor under the law. If you believe you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor, you should reach out to us, since misclassification issues are highly dependent on the specific facts and circumstances of your situation.

Break Time

If you are paid by the hour, your employer may offer designated break times during your shift. While employers are not required to offer designated break time to employees aged 18 and older, if your employer chooses to do so, it must follow the federal and Ohio break laws. Break periods of 30 minutes or more can be unpaid, as long as you are not required to perform any work during this timeframe. Short breaks of 20 minutes or less, however, must be paid.

Overtime Pay

While the FLSA entitles most hourly-paid employees to overtime payment for hours worked over 40 per workweek, there are several job-specific exceptions to this general rule. Unfortunately, the Federal Motor Carrier Exemption excludes most truck drivers from entitlement to overtime pay. However, in order to avoid the payment of overtime, your employer must be able to prove you fall under this exemption by establishing the following three elements:

1. You are employed by a motor carrier or motor private carrier (the “employer” requirement);

2. You are a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic whose duties affect the safety of motor vehicles in transportation on public highways in interstate commerce (the “employee duties” requirement); and

3. You are NOT covered by the small vehicle exception.

Each of these three elements are explained in greater detail below. If your employer cannot prove all three of the above elements, then you are entitled to overtime pay.

1. The Employer Requirement

Your employer must first prove you are employed by a “motor carrier” or “motor private carrier.” A motor carrier is a company that transports cargo for compensation, and a motor private carrier is a private company that transports its own cargo. Nearly all trucking companies will fall under one of these definitions.

2. The Employee Duties Requirement

Your employer must also prove you meet the “employee duties” requirement. This element has several sub-elements, and your employer must prove you meet each one. First, you must be employed as a truck driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic. If you work for a trucking company but you are NOT employed in one of these roles (for example, if you are employed as a dispatcher or administrative worker), then you will not meet this element are you are entitled to overtime pay.

The job duties you perform must also include “safety-affecting” activities. In other words, you must perform job duties that somehow impact the safety of the truck the company uses to transport goods. Drivers and drivers’ helpers qualify because they are responsible for safely operating the truck on the road. Certain loaders also qualify, but only if they are responsible for properly loading cargo in the truck (as opposed to simply unloading the cargo from the truck when it arrives at its destination). Mechanics can qualify as well, but only if they work directly on the truck used to transport the goods. The frequency or type of “safety-affecting” activities performed does not matter, unless the employee’s job duties have no or very little actual impact on the vehicle’s safety of operation.

Example: A mechanic works for a trucking company and is told to repair the air conditioning on a truck. Since a truck can still be safely driven without air conditioning, this will likely not be considered a “safety-affecting” activity.

Finally, your employer must prove your job duties involve transporting goods across state lines or delivering goods to an intrastate terminal (like a railroad or airport) which will then take the goods across state lines. If you have not personally made any interstate trips, your employer can still prove that you meet this element if it can prove the company does business across state lines and that you could reasonably be called upon to make an interstate trip.

3. The Small Vehicle Exception

Even if you meet the above two elements, you are still entitled to overtime pay if you fall under the small vehicle exception, which applies if the vehicle you drive weighs 10,000 pounds or less. If you drive or work with multiple vehicles, at least one of which weighs 10,000 pounds or less, then you are entitled to overtime pay for each week you work with the small vehicle, regardless of the size of other trucks you may have worked with that week. Certain types of small vehicles don’t qualify for this exception, however, so if you work with a small vehicle, you should verify whether this exception applies to you by reviewing the Department of Labor’s Motor Carrier Exemption Fact Sheet.

Each situation is different, and a thorough review of your situation is likely necessary to determine whether you’re owed wages. Truck drivers work hard to provide essential goods and services throughout the country, and you deserve to be properly compensated for your efforts. If you believe you have been underpaid, or if you have other questions about your wages or employment, reach out to us to schedule a FREE consultation.

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