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Court — OTR drivers who spend more than 8 hours in a sleeper berth must be paid

Berth restricts drivers’ space, as well as leisure activity options

Posted December 20, 2023

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on December 12 that motor carriers must pay over-the-road (OTR) drivers for any hours spent in a sleeper berth beyond eight hours.

In the class action claim that has been knocking around for years, a driver argued that confinement to the restrictive environment of the sleeper berth meant that such time predominantly benefits the carrier. As such, this time worked must be paid under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The carrier argued that none of the time the drivers spent in the sleeper berth should be considered work under the FLSA because they were “waiting to be engaged,” not “engaged to wait.” They were not working, in the carrier’s opinion.

Leisure activities limited in sleeper berth

The carrier referred to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Hours of Service (HOS) rules requiring drivers to be relieved from work during the 10-hour off-duty period, and specifically exclude time spent resting in a sleeper berth from that on-duty time.

The court pointed out that the carrier’s reliance on the HOS rules to determine what constitutes hours worked for pay is misplaced. The HOS rules address driver and road safety and, unlike the FLSA, do not address driver pay.

The carrier’s argument that drivers can do anything they want while in the sleeper berth did not convince the court. It countered that the argument turned a blind eye to the limitations inherent in the driver’s physical location.

Team drivers

Though drivers might be able to engage in some leisure activities, the nature of those activities is restricted by the driver’s presence in the berth — a small space with only some basic living essentials.

Many carriers use teams to drive their trucks; one driving while the other is not. While not driving, one might spend much time in a sleeper berth. Those drivers cannot leave until the truck stops moving, which restricts their freedom to do “anything” as the carrier argued.

Montoya et al. v. CRST Expedited, 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-1482, December 12, 2023.

This article was written by Darlene Clabault of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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