Fourth Circuit Holds Mixed Fleet Truck Drivers Entitled to Overtime Pay

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, certain commercial drivers involved in interstate commerce are exempt from the law’s overtime provisions. In 2008, Congress amended the law to mandate that overtime be paid to employees driving motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less. On November 17, 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Virginia) declined to apply the driver overtime exemption to employees whose duties involved operation of a mixed fleet of vehicles, some over and some under the 10,000 pound threshold.

In Schilling v. Schmidt Baking Co., Inc., most of the defendant’s deliveries were made by contract workers driving large trucks. However, the company had its own fleet of trucks, with some above and some below the weight limit. When the contract drivers were unable to finish all the deliveries, the plaintiffs stepped in, using an assortment of trucks from the defendant’s fleet as well as their own personal vehicles. They sued, asserting that their use of the smaller vehicles took them out of the FLSA overtime exemption.

Agreeing with the plaintiffs, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of their claims. The appellate court emphasized the plaintiffs’ testimony that they drove smaller trucks seventy to ninety percent of their working time when making deliveries. That they would also operate motor vehicles over 10,000 pounds does not allow the employer to claim the overtime exemption.

The court noted that FLSA exemptions are to be narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them. The idea is if Congress intended to exclude mixed fleet employees from the overtime requirement, it could have made that explicitly known by defining a “covered employee” as one who exclusively performs duties on motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less. However, Congress opted not to do so.

The Fourth Circuit’s opinion does not mean that an interstate driver’s sporadic operation of a smaller truck will defeat the overtime exemption. However, in order to claim the exemption, the employer must establish that the employee spends the majority of their working time driving larger vehicles.

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