Truckers working for Walmart recently received affirmation from a federal court in California that the $55 million verdict they won against the mega-retailer for its unlawful pay practices will stand.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit doesn’t just have implications for truckers or Walmart employees. Any employees in California whose jobs involve significant downtime while they are still under their employer’s control – such as legally mandated rest breaks or layovers – may find that they deserve more pay than they have traditionally received.
When Your Downtime Isn’t Your Own
Both federal and California state law require that truckers take 10-hour breaks between long driving shifts. During these mandatory layovers, drivers can’t get behind the wheel again or else the 10-hour required break period starts over.
Theoretically, if a driver wanted to spend that downtime at home, sleeping in his or her own bed, spending time with loved ones, or zoning out to the TV, it’s permissible under the law. However, Walmart’s policy explicitly prohibited its drivers from taking those layovers at home without prior written approval. Additionally, in the wage and hour class-action lawsuit they filed against Walmart, the truckers alleged that the company required them to sleep in their trucks during layovers, forbade them from drinking alcohol or carrying personal weapons during their breaks, and made them seek authorization to have guests or pets in their cabs during layovers.
That employer control over how and where truckers could spend their legally required break time was the crux of the lawsuit filed by Walmart truckers. Under California law, an employer must pay an employee minimum wage for any period during which it exerts “control” over that employee. The truckers said that Walmart’s layover and break restrictions, on top of the law’s requirements, amounted to just such control.
A jury agreed and awarded the truckers $44.7 million for unpaid layovers, $3.96 million for unpaid rest breaks, and $5.94 million for unpaid pre-trip and post-trip inspections.
Walmart appealed the verdict, but the appellate court affirmed the jury’s award. The court noted that:
“Walmart’s policy restricted drivers’ freedom of movement and prevented drivers from making a unilateral decision to spend layovers at home without preapproval. Walmart employees may have been free to leave the truck and engage in personal activities during layovers, but they could not go home. This foreclosed drivers from numerous activities in which they might otherwise engage while on layovers. As a result, employee liberty and freedom of movement was controlled by Walmart.”
The court concluded that:
“In California, an employer must pay minimum wages whenever it controls the employee. And there is no reason to think that … an employer cannot exercise control of a trucker even when the driver is taking a legally mandated break.”
While Walmart may still request a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the verdict and appellate affirmation mean that any California employees who must take breaks or layovers must also be able to use that time in a (legally permissible) way that they choose without significant employer interference or limitations. If an employer exerts control over that time, it must pay for that time.
Have Questions About Whether You Should Be Paid for Required Downtime? Contact the Overtime Pay Attorneys Today for a Free Consultation.
If you have questions about how your employer is treating your downtime and breaks and whether you should receive wages for such required rest periods, speaking with an experienced wage and overtime pay attorney is the best way to understand your rights. Together, we can ensure that you receive every dollar you deserve for every hour you work.