DOT Says Motor Carriers Need Not Comply with California Break Laws

California Break Laws don't apply to truck drivers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) recently issued a decision stating that motor carriers do not have to comply with California break laws requiring employers to provide workers with regular meal breaks and paid rest breaks. This decision, announced by the agency on December 21, 2018, attempts to overturn a 2014 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision by the FMCSA follows a petition filed in September 2018 by the American Trucking Association asking that the agency exempt carriers from the California break laws. Specifically, the law requires that employers provide a 30-minute meal break every five (5) hours at work and a paid 15-minute rest break for every four (4) hours of work time. The California-specific law, the American Trucking Association argues, interferes with federal hours of service regulations.

The FMCSA agreed with the American Trucking Association, stating that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act mandates that federal law supersedes state laws on regulating drivers’ work schedules.

This decision has the potential to overturn a 2014 ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Dilts v. Penske, which held that California’s meal and rest break laws as applied to motor carrier employers were not preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act.

On the American Trucking Association’s side is the Western States Trucking Association, which has lamented that the Ninth Circuit ruling has created a wave of litigation against trucking companies, particularly smaller carriers, seeking damages for failing to allow drivers to take the California-required meal and rest breaks.  The Teamsters Union is already seeking to overturn the FMCSA’s decision.  On December 27, 2018, the Teamsters filed a petition with the Ninth Circuit asking the court to reverse the FMCSA’s decision in its entirety.

The FMCSA’s ruling on California’s break laws has the potential to lead to an appeal of Dilts v. Penske to the United States Supreme Court for review.  Meanwhile, the decision could also impact other ongoing trucking cases in California.  For example, the decision could affect the outcome of cases which set forth new criteria for how to determine a driver’s status of independent contractor versus employee.

For more information and guidance, contact your Labor & Employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.