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Federal Judge rules on driver pay for “hours worked”

In January, Timothy L. Brooks, a federal judge in the Western District of Arkansas, doubled down on his October 19th Memorandum Opinion in the case of Browne v. P.A.M. Transport, Inc., in which he stated that the Defendant, P.A.M Transport, Inc., was required to ensure all of its drivers were paid at least minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The Memorandum Opinion can be found here: https://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/arkansas/arwdce/5:2016cv05366/50562/82/0.pdf?ts=1540016189.

In affirming his October opinion, which focuses primarily on over-the-road drivers who are spending greater than 24 hours at a time away from home, Judge Brooks clarified his position that despite the fact that many truck drivers are paid by the mile, it is a violation of the FLSA if these driver’s weekly pay ends up totaling less than the driver’s hours worked for the week multiplied by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. In other words, truck drivers must make at least minimum wage for their “hours worked,” regardless of how they are paid.

In determining how to calculate hours worked, the Court determined that for the purposes of the FLSA, an over-the-road driver was to be paid, at the very least, for every hour not spent in their sleeper berth, regardless of whether they are driving and irrespective of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Hours of Service regulations.

Practically, unless agreed upon with the driver ahead of time, the Opinion means that motor carriers are actually required to ensure that over-the-road drivers are compensated at least at federal minimum wage for all 24 hours in a day worked over the road, even if some of those hours were spent sleeping. While it is legal for carriers and drivers to agree that time in the sleeper berth will not be compensated, carriers will still be required to ensure that the drivers are paid for 16 hours of the day at a minimum, regardless of whether the driver sleeps for longer than 8 hours. This means that at the end of each week, carriers need to ensure that drivers are making the minimum amounts required by the FLSA. If a motor carrier calculates that in a week a driver has made less than the minimum amount required, the motor carrier is required to pay the driver the difference or risk being hit with a class action lawsuit large enough to put them out of business.

Judge Brooks Opinion was written and affirmed on the heels of other recent court cases in favor of truck drivers securing pay for every hour they spend on the road. In 2017, a Nebraska federal court decided that trucking giant Werner Enterprises had to pay $780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers after the company was accused of pay practice violations. Another major carrier, C.R. England, has been ordered paid $2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers.

While most carriers’ pay is to the point where the FLSA implications would not be an issue, it is important for carriers to take a hard look at their pay scales to ensure they are not getting too close to violating the federal statutes. If you have any questions regarding regulating  your driver’s paychecks to comply with FLSA laws, please contact Kevin Coghill (kcoghill@setlifflaw.com) at (804) 377-1273 or Steve Setliff (ssetiff@setlifflaw.com) at (804) 377-1261.

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