Author: David Lavi, Esq.
Dated: June 29, 2023

California overtime laws for truck drivers can be incredibly intricate due to the existence of multiple regulations governing their hours of service. In an attempt to avoid overlapping regulations, the Legislature aimed to assign either the Department of Transportation or the Department of Labor as the regulating authority for each truck driver, but not both. Unfortunately, this approach resulted in a convoluted system rather than simplifying matters. This discussion will solely focus on whether truck drivers are entitled to overtime pay and will not address the regulation of hours of service by other departments.

It is important to note that the exemptions for truck drivers pertain exclusively to California overtime law and do not extend to California meal breaks. Consequently, truck drivers generally have the right to take meal breaks.

The complexity surrounding the analysis of overtime for truck drivers is further compounded by the existence of two distinct sets of laws: California overtime law and Federal overtime law. If a truck driver meets the criteria outlined in either of these laws, they are entitled to receive overtime pay. However, the requirements and rates for overtime differ between the two sets of laws. To determine if you qualify for any form of overtime pay, we will examine the specific requirements under each set of regulations.

In California, the general rule is that all employees are entitled to overtime pay unless they meet certain exemptions. One lesser-known exemption applies to most truck drivers, who are exempt from overtime under California law. The exemption specifies that employees whose hours of service are regulated by either the United States Department of Transportation Code of Federal Regulations or the California Code of Regulations pertaining to hours of drivers are not subject to California overtime laws. However, it is important to note that this exemption only pertains to California overtime and does not affect the entitlement to Federal overtime. To determine if you qualify for Federal overtime, further examination is required. The following categories outline the types of drivers covered by the aforementioned regulations:

  1. If the truck you drive has a gross weight rating of 26,001 lbs or more, you are automatically exempt from California overtime law. However, you should review the section on Federal overtime to determine if you qualify under that law.
  2. If the truck you drive has a gross weight rating of 10,000-26,000 lbs, you will be exempt from California overtime only if your truck also operates in interstate commerce.
  3. If the truck you drive is a farm labor vehicle or transports hazardous waste, you are exempt from California overtime law. Again, you must review the section on Federal overtime to assess if you qualify under that law.
  4. If the truck you drive tows a trailer resulting in a combined length exceeding 40 feet, you are exempt from California overtime law.
  5. If the truck you drive is regulated by the California Public Utility Commission (PUC), you are exempt from California overtime law.
  6. If the truck you drive tows a regulated trailer with a total gross weight rating of more than 10,000 lbs, you are exempt from California overtime law.

Federal Overtime Pay for Truck Drivers

Under Federal law, overtime is provided after 40 hours of work in a workweek. Unlike California overtime law, there is no provision for overtime after 8 hours in a day or double time after 12 hours in a day. The key consideration for Federal overtime is whether you engage in “interstate commerce” while driving your truck. Unless you drive a truck weighing 10,000 lbs or less, you are not entitled to overtime if you engage in interstate commerce.

“Interstate Commerce” Defined

The definition of “interstate commerce” can vary in legal contexts, but for truck drivers, a strict interpretation has been applied. Specifically, the driver must physically cross state lines or transport goods as part of a continuous interstate shipment. If you physically drive across state lines, the analysis is straightforward: you are exempt from overtime for a minimum of 4 months from the time of that trip, even if you do not engage in any further interstate trips.

Complications arise when you do not personally drive across state lines but transport goods that recently crossed state lines. In such cases, if the shipment is part of a continuous movement of goods, the entire shipment is considered “interstate,” even if you did not drive across state lines. For example, if a package is shipped from Arizona to California and one driver takes it from Arizona to Los Angeles while another driver picks it up and completes the local delivery in Los Angeles, both drivers would be exempt from overtime because the shipment is deemed to be “interstate.”

When raw goods are shipped from out of state and subsequently assembled or manufactured within the state, the final shipment from the assembly plant to an in-state location is not considered interstate commerce. Any change or processing of goods breaks the shipment chain, and any in-state shipping from that point forward is no longer considered interstate commerce. However, simply unpacking goods from a larger package and delivering smaller packages would not be sufficient to constitute a change.

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