Department of Labor Clarifies Compensability of Sleeper Berth Time

On July 22, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a new opinion letter that explicitly rejected two prior court decisions out of Arkansas and Arizona which had concluded that motor carriers may owe minimum wage pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for time spent by its drivers in the sleeper berth.

The previous cases had cited five prior opinion letters from the DOL, stating that sleeper berth time may be compensable and utilized in determining whether the motor carrier was meeting the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA. The new opinion letter specifically withdrew all prior letters to the extent inconsistent with the present opinion. The present opinion states that the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumably non-working time that is not compensable. There are exceptions, such as when the employer requires the driver to perform work related activities while in the sleeper berth.

While the opinion letter is not legally binding, the letters are typically utilized by courts for guidance in interpreting the applicable regulations. This is a significant development for the trucking and transportation industry and should be helpful in defending ever increasing litigation under the FLSA.