Good news for certain California trucking companies — California’s meal period and rest break requirements no longer apply to truck drivers who are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s hours-of-service requirements.
How did this happen?
To understand how this happened, we need to first give a brief history of this issue.
California’s meal period and rest period laws are quite onerous – especially for trucking companies. These laws require all California employers provide employees with a duty-free 30-minute meal period to begin before the employee completes five hours of work; employers must also provide paid 10-minute duty-free rest breaks for every four-hour work period or “major fraction thereof.” Among the problems that trucking companies have with complying with these requirements is actually proving compliance with the requirements. How does one prove that a driver actually took the rest and/or meal period?
Naturally, plaintiff attorneys took advantage of the situation and filed lawsuits against the trucking companies alleging that these employers were not complying with the rest and meal period laws.
In defending these claims, trucking companies asserted that California’s meal and rest break laws were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994. Initially, this defense worked … until 2014 when the 9th Circuit federal court of appeals ruled (in Dilts v. Penske Logistics) that California’s meal and rest break laws were not preempted.
After several failed attempts to challenge this ruling, the American Trucking Association (ATA) filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Transportation requesting that the Transportation Secretary review the California’s meal and rest break laws and determine if they were preempted by federal law.
Under 49 U.S.C. section 31141, the Transportation Secretary has the ability to review state laws applicable to drivers of commercial motor vehicles and determine whether the state law(s) is preempted by federal law. This can happen if the Transportation Secretary decides one or more of the following:
- The state law has no safety benefit;
- The state law is incompatible with a regulation of the secretary; or
- Enforcement of the state law would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.
With respect to California’s meal period and rest period laws, the Secretary of Transportation determined that all three elements were present; therefore these laws were preempted by federal law.
As a result, California can no longer enforce its meal period and rest break laws as to truck drivers regulated by the Department of Transportation’s hours-of-service regulations.
It is recommended that trucking companies consult with legal counsel to determine if/how this finding affects their drivers.