Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, certain drivers of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce are exempt from the law’s overtime provisions. In 2008, Congress amended the FLSA to apply the overtime requirement to drivers that operate vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less. Last month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North and South Carolina) refused to apply the driver overtime exemption to employees whose duties involved use of a number of vehicles, some over and some under this weight limit.
In Schilling v. Schmidt Baking Co., Inc., most of the defendant’s deliveries were made by contract drivers operating large trucks. However, the company maintained its own fleet of vehicles, some over and some under the 10,000-pound threshold. When the contract drivers were unable to complete all deliveries, the plaintiffs filled in, using a variety of the defendant’s trucks or their own personal vehicles. They sued, claiming that their operation of the smaller motor vehicles removed them from the overtime exemption.
The Fourth Circuit agreed, reversing the district court’s dismissal of their claims. The court noted testimony from the plaintiffs alleging that they used the smaller vehicles for delivery 70 to 90 percent of their working time. The fact that they would also drive vehicles over 10,000 pounds does not allow the employer to claim the overtime exemption. The FLSA is strictly interpreted to benefit employees, and the lack of any indication of Congressional intent to exclude mixed-fleet drivers from the overtime requirement weighs in favor of the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the law.
This decision does not mean that occasional use of a smaller vehicle by interstate drivers will defeat their overtime exemption. However, in order to claim the exemption, the employer must demonstrate that the drivers spend the significant majority of their working time operating larger trucks.