Trucking companies could owe employee truck drivers pay for every hour spent on the job, including sleeping breaks required by law, under a new court ruling.
The ruling by the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Ark., came in an ongoing wage lawsuit against P.A.M. Transport Inc. Issued Friday, it said federal labor laws, not safety rules, should be used to tally for how many hours of work an employee truck driver must be paid.
“The Department of Transportation regulations aim to make our roads safe, while the Department of Labor regulations aim to provide workers adequate compensation,” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Brooks said in denying P.A.M.’s motion for dismissal of some of the lawsuit’s claims.
“This is big — this is a completely different approach, which says, ‘Look, anytime you are on the road is potentially compensable — every hour you are away from home you deserve minimum wage,’ ” said Steve Viscelli, a truck labor expert and author who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
P.A.M., based in Tontitown, Ark., and its attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. The company owned and operated 1,351 trucks on average in the third quarter. It recently posted record quarterly profits of $9.2 million on higher quarterly revenue of $140.3 million.
“Their position is that when you are logged in to the sleeper berth, they don’t have to pay you because that means you are resting and if you are resting you can’t be working,” said Justin L. Swidler, the drivers’ attorney in the P.A.M. suit and a partner at Swartz Swidler in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“It ignores federal wage and hours jurisprudence, which holds that if you are permitted to sleep you can still be working,” he said.
Swidler said he raised the sleeper berth issue in a previous driver lawsuit against P.A.M., but it was not decided by the court because the case was settled.
Currently, the trucking industry uses federal Department of Transportation rules when counting how many of the hours a truck driver works must be paid. Specifically, it relies on the department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules, which don’t count time spent resting in a truck’s sleeper berth as on-duty time.
That practice was challenged as part of the December 2016 federal lawsuit brought by three truck drivers against P.A.M. The drivers alleged the company failed to pay minimum wage in a number of instances.
In early May, several thousand more drivers joined the suit when it was conditionally allowed to proceed as a class action lawsuit. A few weeks later, P.A.M. filed a motion to dismiss all of the wage claims in the suit that had to do with time spent in sleeper berths. The company argued that it is legally allowed to exclude those.
The court disagreed and denied the motion. “This Court believes those DOT regulations have little, if any, bearing on the matter at hand,” the judge wrote in Friday’s filing. “They are a different set of regulations from the DOL regulations under discussion … concerned with different policy aims.”