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Some Truckers Get Overtime Pay Under FLSA, 3rd Cir. Rules

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 13, 2015 1:50 PM

The Third Circuit ruled Wednesday that certain truckers are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, finding that drivers of lighter vehicles are subject to a "carveout" from the FLSA's overtime exemptions.

The FLSA establishes minimum wage and overtime requirements that apply to the majority of workers. Covered workers are entitled to "time and a half" overtime, except, of course, the many workers who fall within the Act's numerous exemptions.

Exemptions -- and Exemptions to Exemptions

Among those who don't require overtime are managers, farm workers, and even home-based wreath makers. Until recently, neither were most truckers. The FLSA's Motor Carrier Act Exemption kept commercial drivers, whose qualifications and hours were regulated by the Secretary of Transportation, outside of the Act's overtime protections.

However, with the Corrections Act of 2008, Congress created an exemption to the trucker exemption. Employees who, in whole or part, "affect the safe operation of vehicles lighter than 10,000 pounds," are covered employees under the FLSA. Vehicles dedicated to hazardous materials or large numbers of passengers don't count.

Ashley McMaster, a former employee of Eastern Armored Services, argued that she fell under this "carveout." As a driver for Eastern, she repeatedly worked over 40 hours a week, driving vehicles under 10,000 pounds about half the time, yet received no overtime pay.

The Third Circuit agreed with McMasters. While most professional truckers are generally exempt from the FLSA's overtime requirements, the Corrections Act created an unambiguous carveout for drivers working with "lighter" trucks. The court was not swayed by a "policy statement" by the Seventh Circuit, arguing that the carveout would create burdensome oversight requirements. The Third Circuit disagreed, stating that "neither history nor policy" could overcome the clear establishment of a carveout to the FLSA's trucker exemption.

More Tests, Maybe More Pay, for Truckers

The ruling comes as good news for drivers of smaller trucks, and for Ashley McMasters, who could be eligible for a hefty bit of back pay. Trucking companies may now have to engage in more careful oversight of driver's vehicles and hours.

Another case threatening to shake up traditional wage and hour regulations for truckers is also before the Third Circuit. In a lawsuit over whether drivers were improperly classified as independent contractors, the court sought certification of a state law question from the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that the drivers should are presumed to employee's unless they pass the state's "ABC" test. The Third Circuit has yet to make a final ruling on that case.

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