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Viewpoint: Court win for California employers of short-haul drivers

Federal rules preempt California’s meal and rest break rules for drivers, appeals court rules

California’s meal and rest break regulations are preempted by federal hours-of-service regulations, according to the courts, which means employers of short-haul drivers need not comply. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The California Court of Appeals recently held that federal law preempts California’s meal and rest period requirements for short-haul drivers. In doing so, the California Court of Appeals reiterated that federal law preempts the meal and rest period requirements for motor carriers as a whole.


A truck driver filed a lawsuit against his employer alleging various wage and hour violations, including failure to provide meal and rest periods, unfair business practices, and representative claims for penalties under the California Private Attorney General Act. The employer filed a motion for summary adjudication related to the meal and rest periods claim. The employer argued that California’s laws regarding meal and rest periods were preempted by federal regulations concerning commercial motor vehicle safety.

Trial court’s decision

The trial court denied the employer’s motion for summary adjudication. As such, the case went to trial and the employer was found to be in violation of the California laws. The employer appealed the decision.

Court of appeals’ decision

As readers may recall, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (which oversees California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and Hawaii), recently held that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is responsible for regulating commercial motor carrier safety and that federal law preempts California’s meal and rest break rules. Here, to avoid this ruling, the employee argued that California requirements still applied to him, because the previous preemption ruling does not apply to short-haul drivers because short-haul drivers are exempted from the 30-minute break rule under federal regulations.

 The California Court of Appeals, however, did not agree. In reversing the trial court’s decision against the employer, the Court of Appeals stated: “[i]t is undisputed that certain [federal] hours-of-service rules apply to short-haul drivers, such as the daily limits on driving time and the daily and weekly limits on on-duty time. Thus the [hours-of-service] rules, as a general matter, apply to short-haul drivers. The fact that such drivers are exempted from one rule does not remove them from the universe of drivers subject to the hours-of-service rules, and it is not reasonable to read the language of the [FMCSA] order to suggest they are.”


In light of this decision, regardless of whether a California commercial truck driver is considered a long-haul or short-haul driver, California’s meal and rest break regulations are preempted by federal hours-of-service regulations—so long as the driver is a driver of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles and is subject to the FMCSA’s hours-of-service rules. Therefore, employers will need not comply with California’s meal and rest break regulations for those drivers. Employers must still be conscious of other California laws, however, to the extent that those laws may apply to their company and/or drivers.

R. Eddie Wayland is a partner with the law firm of King & Ballow.  You may reach Mr. Wayland at (615) 726-5430 or at [email protected].  The foregoing materials, discussion and comments have been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed as legal advice on specific situations or subjects.

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