Federal Regulations Trump California’s Meal and Rest Break Rules For Short Haul Drivers Too

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Employers in the trucking industry have repeatedly tried to challenge the applicability of California’s stringent meal and rest break laws to their workers, in light of the practical difficulties of complying with those rules and its conflict with contrary federal regulations.  On December 28, 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) issued a preemption order that expressly held that California’s meal and rest break laws do not apply to drivers of commercial motor vehicles subject to the federal hours of service (“HOS”) requirements.  It has since been clear that this preemption order applied to long-haul drivers (drivers that generally complete trips outside of a 150-mile radius from their work location) in California.  Espinoza v. Hepta Run, Inc., 2022 WL 167770 (2022) now directly addressed the open question of whether federal law also preempts California’s meal periods and rest break requirements for short-haul drivers (drivers that generally drive within a 150-mile radius from their work location), in the affirmative. 

Plaintiff Espinoza worked as a short-haul truck driver.  He filed a lawsuit alleging, among other wage and hour claims, that he was not provided the opportunity to take California-compliant meal periods and rest breaks.  His employer, Hepta Run, Inc. filed a motion for summary adjudication, asserting that Espinoza’s meal and rest period claims were preempted by FMCSA’s preemption order.  The trial court denied Hepta Run’s motion for summary adjudication and Espinoza prevailed at trial.

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal analyzed whether the federal rules covering long-haul truckers were also meant to cover short-haul truck drivers like Espinoza. 

First, short-haul drivers, while exempt from one federal hours-of-service regulation, are still governed by many other HOS regulations.  Second, the Court noted that if the FMCSA wanted to exempt short-haul truck drivers from its 2018 preemption order or restricted its application to long haul drivers, it would have simply done so. Thus, the Court held that short-haul truck drivers fall under the FMCSA preemption order and are not governed by California meal and rest period laws.  

In addition to the preemption arguments, the Court also addressed the issue of individual liability for wage claims.  The trial court awarded damages against the Company’s owner Ed Tseng under Labor Code section 558.1.  The Court analyzed whether an owner needs to be involved in the day-to-day operations for personal liability under that section.  While the Court confirmed that the owner must have some affirmative involvement beyond mere ownership status, it did not require that the owner be involved in the day-to-day operations for individual liability to potentially attach.  Tseng’s approval of Company policies regarding payment of the truck drivers that lead to violations of the Labor Code, which was sufficient involvement for personal liability under Section 558.1. 

Overall, this case provides some certainty for trucking companies that their short-haul drivers are also exempt from California meal and rest period requirements.  Trucking companies and companies that have logistical functions should review their meal and rest period policies and call their attorney if they have specific questions about applicability of the FMCSA preemption order to their drivers.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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