Of the myriad of exemptions used by defense counsel in Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) cases, the Motor Carrier Act Exemption sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the usual suspects list of exemptions. If the employer’s business falls under the type of industry covered by the Act, and the plaintiff’s job duties meet the statutory requirements, there is no need to fight over whether the plaintiff was really an independent contractor as opposed to an employee; or whether the employer’s gross revenues were over or under the statutory requirement to be an enterprise engaged in commerce; or whether the employee’s job duties should have classified as “exempt” in the first place. If it applies, the Motor Carrier Act Exemption can save all parties involved, as well as the Court, a lot of time because the employee will not be entitled to overtime under the FLSA. Below is very brief primer of the Motor Carrier Act to refresh our memories of the requirements.
The Motor Carrier Act Exemption
The FLSA lists a number of exemptions to the overtime pay requirements which generally apply to employees who work more than forty hours in a week. One such exemption is found in 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1), which exempts employers from paying overtime to “any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of section 31502 of Title 49.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). The Department of Transportation (“DOT”) may set requirements for employees of private motor carriers in terms of “maximum hours of service,” “safety of operation and equipment,” and “standards of equipment” of a “motor private carrier.” 49 U.S.C. § 13502(b)(1)-(2). In the context of the FLSA, this is commonly referred to as the Motor Carrier Act Exemption (“MCE”).
In essence, for the purposes of the MCE, an employee cannot simultaneously fall under the jurisdiction of the DOT and the Department of Labor (“DOL”), and those employees whose class of work falls under the DOT will be exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA. Brennan v. Schwerman Trucking Co. of Va., 540 F.2d 1200, 1204 (4th Cir. 1976) (“We are thus of opinion that the company is, by virtue of [section] 213(b)(1), exempt from the maximum hours provisions of the FLSA. A carrier may not be subjected simultaneously to the regulation of the Secretary of Transportation under the Motor Carriers Act and the Secretary of Labor under the FLSA.”), citing, Morris v. McComb, 332 U.S. 422, 437-38, 68 S.Ct. 131, 92 L.Ed. 44 (1947).
The DOL regulations spell out when certain employees of motor carriers are exempt from the requirements of the FLSA. The exemption applies to “a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic,” whose work can be deemed to directly affect “the safety of operation of motor vehicles on the public highways in transportation in interstate or foreign commerce within the meaning of the Motor Carrier Act.” 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(b)(2), citing, Pyramid Motor Freight Corp. v. Ispass, 330 U.S. 695, 67 S.Ct. 954, 91 L.Ed. 1184 (1947) (other citations omitted). Further:
As a general rule, if the bona fide duties of the job performed by the employee are in fact such that he is … called upon in the ordinary course of his work to perform, either regularly or from time to time, safety-affecting activities of the character described in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, he comes within the exemption in all workweeks when he is employed at such job. This general rule assumes that the activities involved in the continuing duties of the job in all such workweeks will include activities which have been determined to affect directly the safety of the operation of motor vehicles on the public highways in transportation in interstate commerce. Where this is the case, the rule applies regardless of the proportion of the employee’s time or of his activities which is actually devoted to such safety-affecting work in the particular workweek, and the exemption will be applicable even in a workweek when the employee happens to perform no work directly affecting ‘safety of operation.’
29 C.F.R. § 782.2(b)(3).
If the MCE is applicable to the facts of your case, it can be a great tool for defending FLSA claims.
 A “motor private carrier” is defined under the DOT regulations as a person “transporting property by motor vehicle,” inter alia, between a place in a State and a place in another State. 49 U.S.C. § 13502(15)(A), § 13501(1)(A). Moreover, a “commercial motor vehicle” is defined under the DOT regulations as a vehicle used in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property if the vehicle “has a gross vehicle weight rating [‘gvwr’] or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater … ” 49 U.S.C. § 31132(1)(A).