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TRANSPORTATION LAW: CALIFORNIA MEAL AND REST BREAKS PRE-EMPTED FOR INTERSTATE DRIVERS

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has determined that California’s Meal and Rest Break rules (MRB Rules) are preempted under 49 U.S.C. 31141 as applied to property-carrying commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers covered by the FMCSA's hours of service (HOS) regulations. That is, California may no longer enforce the MRB Rules with respect to drivers of property-carrying CMVs subject to FMCSA's HOS rules.

California’s MRB Rules basically provides, in pertinent part: An employee who works more than five hours per day is entitled to a meal period of at least 30 minutes; however, if the employee works only six hours a day, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent. An employee who works more than 10 hours a day is entitled to two meal periods of at least 30 minutes; however, if the employee works 12 hours or less, only the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent. (See California Labor Code, § 512.)

With respect to commercial drivers, Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations section 11090 provides similar rules regarding meal and rest breaks but also provides the following:

  • “Unless the employee is relieved of all duty during a 30 minute meal period, the meal period shall be considered an `on duty' meal period and counted as time worked. An `on duty' meal period shall be permitted only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the parties an on-the-job paid meal period is agreed to. The written agreement shall state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time.” (8 CCR § 11090(11)(C).)
  • “Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof. However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (31/2) hours. Authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.” (8 CCR § 11090(12)(A).)

Contrast that with the FMCSA HOS which provides:

  • at least 30 minutes off duty no later than 8 hours after coming on duty if they wish to continue driving after the 8th hour. (49 CFR 395.3(a)(3)(ii).)

In late 2018, both the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association (SCRA) petitioned the FMCSA to preempt California’s MRB Rules as applied CMVs covered by the FMCSA’s hours of service regulations. Both organizations argued that the FMCSA had preemption authority under 49 U.S.C. 31141 because they are laws “on commercial motor vehicle safety.”

The FMCSA agreed that it had the authority to preempt. It next determined that the MRB Rules are more stringent than the Federal HOS regulations because the former requires employers provide CMV drivers with more rest breaks than the Federal HOS regulations, and they allow a smaller window of driving time before a break is required. The FMCSA further determined the MRB Rules have no added safety benefits. The FMCSA also determined that the MRB Rules would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate conference because they impose significant and substantial costs stemming from decreased productivity and administrative burden.