WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday it had determined that time spent in the sleeper berth by professional truck drivers while otherwise relieved from duty does not count as compensable time.
The DOL issued the determination in a written opinion letter by the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual person or entity that requested the letter.
The American Trucking Associations lauded the opinion.
“ATA welcomes Monday’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question.
Significantly, this opinion letter provides new guidance, the DOL said.
Under prior guidance, the DOL said WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked where “adequate facilities” were furnished, only up to eight hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.
“WHD has now concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable,” the opinion letter said. “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked.”
The ATA commended Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella and Stanton for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.
“ATA also commends the department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” Spear said.