The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued an opinion letter on July 22, 2019, addressing the compensability of time a truck driver spends in a truck’s sleeper berth while otherwise relieved from all work duties. Department of Labor regulations, as set forth in 29 C.F.R. Section 785.41, provide that drivers, assistants, or helpers are not “working while riding” when they are “permitted to sleep in adequate facilities furnished by the employer.”
Under prior guidance, the WHD interpreted that regulation to mean that such time was only excluded from compensable work hours where “adequate facilities” were furnished, and such exclusion was capped at eight hours for trips lasting 24 hours or longer. Furthermore, no exclusion was available for trips lasting less than 24 hours. However, the WHD has now reversed course and admitted in its new opinion letter that its prior interpretation was unnecessarily burdensome for employers. Under the new guidance, the plain language of the regulation is applied and any time spent in the sleeper berth in which a driver is relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable, regardless of the number of hours the trip lasts or the number of off-duty hours that occur during the trip.
While there are still limited exceptions for situations where a driver is in the sleeper berth but is not completely relieved of all duties, including instances where they are on call, or required to spend the time completing necessary paperwork, the overall rule under the WHD’s new opinion letter is clear: if a driver is sleeping (or performing any personal, non-work activities) in the sleeper berth and is completely relieved of all duties, then he or she does not have to be paid for that time.
In addition to outlining its new position which reverses course from its prior guidance, the WHD went further to expressly withdraw five previous opinion letters on this issue and noted its disagreement with two recent judicial opinions that found that time spent in a sleeper berth was compensable. By doing so, the WHD has provided a very clear foundation upon which trucking industry employers may now base their decisions when reviewing whether a driver’s time spent in a truck’s sleeper berth is compensable.
This opinion letter has been applauded by members of the trucking industry as it supports a plain reading of the regulation and removes the heavy burden placed on trucking employers by the WHD’s prior interpretation. The American Trucking Association issued a press release thanking the Department of Labor for clarifying the issue and for adopting a straightforward interpretation of the regulation which is consistent with “the long understanding of the trucking industry.”
In light of this new guidance, employers in the trucking industry should review their current compensation policies, and consult with an employment lawyer who is experienced in regulations governing commercial motor carriers and their driver employees.
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