A federal appeals court has upheld federal preemption of California’s meal and break rules for truck drivers operating in interstate commerce.
The ruling by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel appears to bring to an end a decade of back and forth litigation, and establishes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service regulations take precedence over the state’s meal and rest break regulations.
In its Jan. 15th decision, a three-judge panel of the court held that FMCSA reached its conclusion that, because California required more breaks, more often and with less flexibility as to timing, they were pre-empted by the federal HOS rules.”
Under California’s meal and rest break laws, employees generally must be provided with an off-duty 30-minute break for every five hours worked, and a 10-minute off-duty break for every four-hour period (or major fraction of thereof).
When compared to federal safety regulations, the court agreed with the FMCSA that California’s meal and rest break rules ultimately resulted in truck drivers being required to take more rest breaks “at greater frequency, and with less flexibility as to when breaks occur.”
Last November, FMCSA also rendered a decision holding that Washington State’s then-current meal and rest break rules also were preempted by the federal hours regulations.
“Absent an unexpected reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court, interstate commercial drivers of motor carriers, who are subject to federal hours-of-service requirements, will satisfy their meal and rest break obligations by following federal regulations without the need to abide by California’s (or Washington’s) state meal and rest period laws,” said attorneys for the law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton.
It is not known at this point whether FMCSA under the Biden administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg may change its position.