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Court of Appeals Further Clarifies When Truck Drivers are Eligible for Overtime Pay


Generally speaking, an employee who drives a truck may or may not be eligible for overtime payment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The answer initially turns on whether the truck driver’s company is operating under the rules and regulations of the Department of Transportation (“DOT”). Because Congress perceived a potential for conflict between the DOT and the Department of Labor (“DOL”), it exempted drivers from the jurisdiction of the DOL if the driver is subject to the DOT’s power to establish qualifications and maximum hours under the provisions of the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”). The DOT does not actually have to exercise this authority to exempt the driver from the protection of the FLSA. It is enough if it has the authority over the driver to make the driver exempt. Thus, if an employee is covered by the MCA, he can work over 40 hours a week but not be paid time and a half.

Under the MCA, the DOT has authority over employees employed (1) by a common carrier to operate a motor carrier, (2) that is engaged in interstate commerce, (3) and whose activities directly affect the safety of the operation of these vehicles. A truck is considered a “motor carrier” within the jurisdiction of the DOT if it has a gross empty weight of 10,001 pounds. Vehicles under 10,001 pounds are outside the reach of the DOT and thus are subject to the FLSA and entitle to overtime for time worked over 40 hours a week.

If a company has a mixed fleet of trucks, then the fleet is divided into subfleets of trucks above and below the 10,001 pound limit. Thus, a particular driver is either eligible for overtime or not, depending on whether the truck he or she drives weighs more or less than 10,001 pounds. And, finally, if a driver drives trucks above and below the weight limit, his eligibility for overtime under the FLSA depends upon whether the bona fide duties of the job performed by him are such that he is called upon in the ordinary course of his work to drive trucks over 10,001 pounds, either regularly or from time to time.

In the recent case of Johnson v. Hix Wrecker Service, Inc., 2011 WL 2586284 (7th Cir. 2011), the federal court of appeals in Chicago clarified the “interstate commerce” requirement of the MCA. (That is, under what circumstances is the company considered to be engaged in interstate commerce in order to bring its drivers under the jurisdiction of the MCA and thereby make them ineligible for overtime pay under the FLSA.)

The facts of the case are as follows: Bobby Johnson drove a tow truck for Hix Wrecker Service. Hix operated a tow service and worked in both Illinois and Indiana. Johnson sued his employer for overtime, claiming that he was required to work 12 hour shifts. Hix admitted that Johnson worked long hours, but claimed that he was covered by the MCA and not entitled to overtime pay. The lower court dismissed Johnson’s claim, finding that, among other things, Hix was engaged in interstate commerce. Johnson appealed this finding, claiming that Hix had not shown conclusively that it regularly engaged in interstate commerce. The court of appeals agreed. The applicable rule states that to bring itself within the protection of the MCA, a company must be engaged in interstate commerce within a “reasonable time’, and “reasonable time” in turn has been determined to be any time within the 4 months prior to the suit being filed. It does not matter that the driver personally has not driven across state lines. The critical question is whether the driver could have reasonably been expected to make a run across state lines. Then he would have been subject to the MCA and ineligible for overtime. Because the company had not made this specific factual showing, the case was sent back down for further proceedings.
From the above, it is clear that employees who drive trucks that weigh less than 10,001 pounds and whose company works almost entirely within a state will will be eligible for overtime pay for work over 40 hours.

If you believe you might be part of a class of employees forced to work off the clock or have othewise been denied overtime pay or were paid under the minimum wage, the attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center may be able to help your pursue your own overtime class action. For a free consultation on your rights as an employee contact us today.

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