Around 80 years ago a piece of legislation was passed that forever changed the way business was conducted in the United States. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) was passed in order to give the workers of industry in the United States some proper protection. Generally, the FLSA established a national minimum wage, prohibited types of labor by minors, and more importantly for this current blog, guaranteed “time-and-a-half” for overtime in certain jobs.
Under the FLSA many types of workers are not guaranteed overtime pay due to different exemptions that run the gamut from computer professionals to sugar processing employees. One group that carries an exemption is that of people working in the motor carrier field. However, as with everything in the legal field, there are caveats involved with the potential exemption.
The US Department of Labor left the qualifications and maximum hours of service allowed in the hands of the Secretary of Transportation. As such, the Secretary of Transportation determined that this group of individuals is exempt from receiving overtime pay. The focus in this exemption is that an individual has duties that “affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles in transportation on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce.”
The key phrase there is “affect the safety of operation.” How do we determine what is considered to be “affecting the safety of operation?” That is a question that is open for discussion in the courts. Would an individual who loads and unloads a tractor trailer with no official training fall under the exemption? What about someone who merely rides in the motor vehicle?
This has been touched on by courts in the past though no specific decision has been made. In 2011, the Middle District of Pennsylvania the District Court stated, “However, if the safety-affecting activities are so trivial, casual, and insignificant to be de minimis, the exemption will not apply in any workweek so long as there is no change in his duties. It is the character of the activities rather than the proportion of either the employee’s time or his activities that determines the actual need for the Secretary of Transportation’s power to establish reasonable requirements. The character of the duties performed by the employee, and their relationship to safety operation is controlling.” In 2010, the Northern District Court of Georgia allowed a Plaintiff’s case to survive summary judgment by focusing on what the Plaintiff’s duties were, “The regulations’ definition of a ‘loader’ includes a de minimis exception to the rule: The mere handling of freight at a terminal, before or after loading, or even the placing of certain articles of freight on a motor carrier truck may form so trivial, casual or occasional a part of an employee’s activities, or his activities may relate only to such articles or to such limited handling of them, that his activities will not come within the kind of ‘loading’ which directly affects ‘safety of operation.”