Overview of FLSA Exemptions - Motor Carrier Exemption

Fair Labor Standards Act

Employees who drive, load, maintain or assist in the operation of certain vehicles in the course of performing their jobs, may be subject to a special exemption from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Although, these employees may not be entitled to overtime compensation, they are still entitled to earn a minimum wage for all hours worked in a workweek.  The Motor Carrier Act exemption permits employers to avoid paying overtime to employees who meets the following requirements:

  1. The employee must be employed by a carrier subject to the power of the Secretary of Transportation;
  2. The employee must be engaged in activities that directly affect the operational safety of commercial motor vehicles; and
  3. The vehicles must transport property or passengers on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce.

Unless each of these requirements are met, the employee will be entitled to minimum wages for all hours worked and overtime compensation for all hours worked in excess of forty in a workweek.  As always, it is important to note that the employer has the burden to prove that an exemption applies, so unless the employer can prove that each of these requirements are met, such an employee will be afforded the full protections of the FLSA.

Is an employee employed by a carrier subject to the power of the Secretary of Transportation?  The Secretary of Transportation has the power to regulate private carriers of property by motor vehicle, including common and contract carriers of both passengers and property.  49 U.S.C. 31502.  As a general rule, employees who are engaged to drive across state lines in a motor vehicle carrying property for an employer that is engaged in interstate commerce will meet this burden.  So any employer who’s business requires its workers to travel across state lines carrying passengers or property is likely subject to regulation by the Secretary of Transportation.

Is the employee engaged in activities that directly affect the operational safety of commercial motor vehicles?  In determining whether this requirement is met, it is important to first determine whether or not a commercial motor vehicle operation is implicated, because if not, then there is no reason to analyze whether the employee is engaged in safety affecting activities.  A commercial motor vehicle is defined as a self-propelled or towed vehicle used on highways in interstate commerce to transport persons or property that 1) exceeds 10,000 pounds; 2) is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; 3) is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) and is not used to transport such passengers for compensation; or 4) is used to transport hazardous materials.

If the operation of a commercial motor vehicle is involved, then we must analyze whether the employee is engaged in safety affecting activities. There are four main categories of employees that are ordinarily considered to affect the safety of motor vehicles: Drivers, Driver’s Helpers, Loaders and Mechanics.  Obviously, Drivers are engaged in safety affecting activities, but the other categories often require more inquiry.  A Driver’s Helper is  required to ride on a commercial vehicle and perform job duties that directly affect the safety of their operation.  Examples include armed guards on armored trucks, conductors on buses, and individuals who flag trucks across railroad tracks. A Loader is any employee who exercises judgment and discretion in preparing and loading goods so as to allow for safe operation of the vehicle in interstate commerce.  Finally, a Mechanic performs inspections, adjustments, repair, or maintenance work on parts of the vehicle so as to bear responsibility for ensuring that the vehicle is able to operate safely on the highways.

Do the vehicles transport persons or property in interstate commerce? Interstate commerce means trade, traffic or transportation in the United States that travels across any state line.  The US Department of Labor (“DOL”) follows a “4-Month Rule” and therefore, if interstate commerce of a commercial motor vehicle occurs or could reasonably have occurred within the past four months, the employee will be covered during that entire four-month period.  Transportation of a person is easy to determine, but what is property?  Property in interstate commerce is anything that is being transported for sale, lease, rental, bailment or for use in furtherance of a commercial enterprise.  So even if the property only property is a notepad and pencil used by the employee to take notes for his employer upon arrival across state lines, those items would likely satisfy the property element of this requirement.

As you can see, the determination of whether or not the motor carrier exemption will apply to a worker’s employment likely requires the analysis of an experience wage and hour attorney.  If you have questions about your compensation, contact an employment lawyer at Osman & Smay LLP today for a free consultation.