Recent court ruling finds truckers are entitled to rest breaks under state employment law.
Conflicts between state and federal law can be very confusing for workers trying to exercise their rights to rest breaks, meal breaks, overtime, time off, and more. Typically, California law specifies that whichever statute provides the most protection should be followed. However, in some cases it was not thought possible to override federal law. This was resulting in less than ideal work conditions for thousands of truck drivers in California.
In California, state law dictates that all employees must receive a paid 10 minute rest break every 4 hours and a paid 30 minute meal break every 5 hours. However, trucking companies argued that they did not have to provide these benefits because states can’t make laws affecting the “price, route, or service” of any motor carrier transporting property, as per a federal law signed by President Clinton in 1994.
Truck drivers have questioned this argument in court, but up until just recently, most federal judges found that the companies were justified in not applying state law. The reasoning was that paid breaks increase the cost of doing business, which affects the price of trucking services.
However, on Wednesday July 9, an appeals court in San Francisco found in favor of the drivers, reinstating a class action lawsuit that 349 Penske drivers had filed against their employer. The drivers argued that the company policy of requiring 10 hour shifts without paid breaks violated state law, and the judge agreed that this argument had merit.
In the opinion, Judge Susan Graber noted that there are plenty of state regulations that apply to the trucking industry and increase the cost of doing business, such as minimum wage laws, transportation safety regulations, and insurance requirements. These requirements have never been considered to violate federal law. The judge seemed to contend that the federal law is meant to guard against specific impositions as to the price, route, or services of trucking companies, not general overhead costs of doing business.
This ruling comes as a major boon to truck drivers, and serves as a reminder to all employees to make sure you understand your rights and your employer’s obligations. If you have any questions about state and/or federal employment law, don’t hesitate to contact an expert employment attorney such as George G. Romain. Your attorney will be happy to provide a free consultation to hear your complaint and help you determine if your rights have been violated and what options you may have for seeking compensation.