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State Labor Laws Decide Paid Meal Breaks for Truck Drivers

No breaks for truck drivers

No breaks for truck drivers

I was talking with a local truck driver the other night who was just about to finish his 14 hour driving shift.  From the moment he had climbed in the truck, he had been working non-stop, for 14 hours in order to complete his work schedule for the night.  For many local and hourly-paid truckers, this is normal.  After three days straight of pounding out 14 hour days, he looked at me and said, “They don’t even give you time to grab a hamburger or even take a minute break.  Whatever happened to the labor law that says you’re suppose to get a meal break?”

I hated to break the news to him, but I told him that this was largely a myth of some sort, depending on the state that you reside in.  I explained that meal breaks for local truckers is a State issue, not a Federal Law issue.  He came back with, “But, truck drivers operate under Federal Law, and Federal Law always overrules State Law.” Wrong again.  Not when you are talking about truck drivers operating locally and on the clock.

For most U.S. employees, federal law does not require the employer to provide paid meal or “coffee” breaks.   Long haul truckers are required to take a mandatory break, as we all know.   But, what about drivers who work locally and on the clock?  This is where the complicated task of deciphering the various state labor laws come in.  This battle between truckers rights under Federal Law or State Law keeps the courts very busy.   Over the road truckers are fixed with the mandatory Federal Law for the required breaks . . . this battle does not effect them.  It is the local, hourly paid truck drivers who are expected to run 12, 13 and even 14 hours non-stop, without a concern by the employer of having the opportunity to stop for a quick 30 minute meal break.   So what about labor laws?   What about being paid for a meal break or even a 15 minute rest period?   Trucking employers who push their local drivers to the very last 14 hour minute . . . giving no time for a quick breather . . . are they violating U.S. Labor Laws?   As with anything in the rules of law, it can be extremely complicated.   What is taking place in the courts is the battle between what Federal Law states, and what State Labor Laws say . . . you have to look at the labor laws of each state.

For example, in Kentucky, State Law concerning a rest break states: “10 minutes for every four hours worked.” For a meal break in Illinois the State Law says, “20 minutes after 5 hours, if the employee will work at least 7½ hours.” In New York it is “one hour“, and in California it states, “30 minutes after 5 hours, if the workday is at least 6 hours.

Currently, my understanding is that seven states require employers to give rest breaks:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Kentucky
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington

Furthermore, 17 states do have statutes requiring meal breaks during the work day:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Washington
  • West Virginia.

There is not anything stopping him from shutting down and taking a quick 30 minute meal break, but the point he was trying to explain was that dispatch would be calling him asking about his ETA to the delivery.   “Never a minute rest,” he said.

Local truck drivers being paid by the load or on percentage pay should not be bothered by whether or not they can stop for a break . . . it would not effect their pay.   However, local drivers working on the clock, had greater concerns for not being paid for their time while doing their work duties.  Again, for local, hourly paid truckers, Federal Law will not step in and save them . . . apparently, it all depends on what the State Statute of each state implies.  This, is the battle attorneys face . . . which law will apply to each individual truck driver, in relationship to the category of driving that they do?

Federal law exempts certain truckers from receiving overtime pay and  meal or paid rest breaks.   Certain states have laws that require the employer to pay for meal breaks, concerning certain types of truck drivers.   For employers that do provide break time,  Federal Law mandates that any breaks of 5-20 minutes must be compensated by the employer.  However, a break lasting 30 minutes or more is not considered “compensable time” and the employer is not obligated to pay.

Many local and hourly paid truck drivers have recently taken their fight to the courts and have won in some cases.  Other cases are still pending.  There can still be a fine line between the Labor Laws and the rights of truckers.  It really hinges on whether or not your state has statutes in place for employers to provide paid work breaks.  Unfortunately, I had to point out to my fellow trucker, that Florida is not one of them.

Allen Smith

© 2010 – 2017, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.

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By: Allen Smith

Allen Smith is a 37 year veteran who started at an early age in a household goods family moving business. He began driving straight trucks in 1977 and moved to the big rigs in 1982. His experience within the industry includes; owner operator, company driver, operations manager, and owner of a long distance HHG moving business, taking many of the long haul moves himself when needed. Allen Smith, a truck driver advocate who is driven by the desire to help others succeed within an industry where injustice, unrewarded sacrifice, and lack of respect and recognition exists. Allen and his wife Donna are hosts of Truth About Trucking ”Live” on Blog Talk Radio. Other websites include AskTheTrucker, TruckingSocialMedia, NorthAmericanTruckingALerts, TruthAboutTrucking, and many Social Media websites. In 2011 Allen and Donna hosted the first Truck Driver Social Media Convention, designed to create unity and solutions for the trucking industry. This is now being extended through the North American Trucking Alerts network as those within the industry join forces for the betterment of the industry. Allen strongly supports other industry advocates who are also stepping up to the plate to help those who share honesty, guidance and direction. He believes that all those involved in trucking need to be accountable for their part within the industry, including drivers, carriers, brokers, shippers, receivers, etc… The list of supporters and likeminded people grow daily, networking together and sharing thoughts and ideas for the betterment of trucking. He has coined the popular phrase "Raising the standards of the trucking industry"

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15 Responses to State Labor Laws Decide Paid Meal Breaks for Truck Drivers. - Post a Comment

  1. […] State Labor Laws Decide Paid Meal Breaks for Truck Drivers […]

  2. John C

    California, as with many other states, have LineDrivers, local drivers paid by the mile. These drivers, unlike local hourly drivers, drive away from local cities and for greater distances. Following the logbook as OTR Drivers with no sleepers and often no way to log off the clock to take a lunch. These LTL companies often just take the time as unpaid waiting to be loaded at a location not their home town. Their has been an understanding for years that these driver would be able to lunch at their own time. Breaks are taken when and where a driver could pullover and take one. California is not that driver friendly.

  3. […] State Labor Laws Decide Paid Meal Breaks for Truck Drivers […]

  4. patty

    I have a question. My business is in Texas and any CDL drivers that we have are in the state. We had an audit with Texas DOT. We were told that if the drivers did not “clock out” on the time card, that they have to be paid for their lunch break. THey are away from the office during this time. It is our company policy to take 1/2 hour off for their lunch break.
    What does the law say? I questions this.

    • Allen Smith

      Here is the federal law which applies in Texas.

      §785.19 Meal.
      (a) Bona fide meal periods. Bona fide meal periods are not worktime. Bona fide meal periods do not include coffee breaks or time for snacks. These are rest periods. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating. (Culkin v. Glenn L. Martin, Nebraska Co., 97 F. Supp. 661 (D. Neb. 1951), aff’d 197 F. 2d 981 (C.A. 8, 1952), cert. denied 344 U.S. 888 (1952); Thompson v. Stock & Sons, Inc., 93 F. Supp. 213 (E.D. Mich 1950), aff’d 194 F. 2d 493 (C.A. 6, 1952); Biggs v. Joshua Hendy Corp.,183 F. 2d 515 (C. A. 9, 1950), 187 F. 2d 447 (C.A. 9, 1951); Walling v. Dunbar Transfer & Storage Co., 3 W.H. Cases 284; 7 Labor Cases para. 61.565 (W.D. Tenn. 1943); Lofton v. Seneca Coal and Coke Co., 2 W.H. Cases 669; 6 Labor Cases para. 61,271 (N.D. Okla. 1942); aff’d 136 F. 2d 359 (C.A. 10, 1943); cert. denied 320 U.S. 772 (1943); Mitchell v. Tampa Cigar Co., 36 Labor Cases para. 65, 198, 14 W.H. Cases 38 (S.D. Fla. 1959); Douglass v. Hurwitz Co., 145 F. Supp. 29, 13 W.H. Cases (E.D. Pa. 1956))

      (b) Where no permission to leave premises. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period.


      Texas does not have paid meal breaks. So they can tell drivers to clock out for lunch and not pay for that time (if the drivers are hourly). However if drivers have job duties during lunch such as being required to watch their cargo then they are on duty, and it is considered paid time. They should have drivers clock out and keep accurate time records. If the drivers do not clock out the assumption could be that they are still on duty. Either way 30 minute auto deductions for lunch are not a good idea because no one ever takes an exact 30 minute break so it’s fictional time. The better practice is to keep accurate meal break records.

  5. jake

    Can you help clarify if my employer should be paying for lunch breaks. I drive a Bobtail propane truck in California delivering to commercial and residential customers. from what I know I cannot legally leave sight of my loaded truck, So I have to eat my lunch in or next to my truck. “Not relieved of duty” Should I be paid for my lunch break?
    Thank You,

    • Allen Smith

      Your California employer does not have to pay you for a meal break. Although California requires employers to provide a meal break (half an hour, if the employee works at least six hours), the break can be unpaid. Employers must pay for meal breaks if the nature of the job requires the employee to remain on duty, and employer and employee agree to the arrangement in writing. For example, if an employee needs to remain at the front desk to let delivery people into the building during lunch, the employee must be paid for that time. If an employer requires employees to remain on-site during lunch, that time also must be paid.

  6. zero
  7. Charles

    I was told last week that 30 min lunch break will be deducted from my check for each day whether i that lunch or not, but i take my lunch and eat while i’m driving so can i still lose a half hour of paid for lunch is that legal or not. is that a State or Federal law Thank you Charles

  8. Dale

    I drive locally in mpls st paul mn. I punch in and out on a time clock, my employers time clock takes 30 minutes off every day. is this legal? example I punch in at 0600(6 am) and punch out at 1630(430pm) the time clock gives me 10 hrs I call bs lol. I am in and out of the office all day loading and unloading freight I do not punch out for a”lunch” break I usually eat in the truck while being unloaded or loaded my ? is this legal? thankx for any and all advise

    • Allen Smith

      Yes, it’s legal. My advise to you is to to take your 30 minute break! As long as they’re taking it out of your pay, then take the break!!

  9. […] State Labor Laws Decide Paid Meal Breaks for Truck Drivers […]

  10. […] State Labor Laws Decide Paid Meal Breaks for Truck Drivers … – By: Allen Smith. Allen Smith is a 37 year veteran who started at an early age in a household goods family moving business. He began driving straight trucks in 1977 and moved to the big rigs in 1982. […]

  11. Gail

    My question is: Is it legal for an employer not to pay there employee at certain times when driving there truck, for example:
    When we get to work and get into the employers dump truck to drive to the first job sight. we are not getting paid from the time that we leave the office until we get to the first job sight. than we are some what on the clock. I say this because if we have to go to a different job sight we will not get paid for that drive time however long it takes to the next job sight than we are on the clock again. another question comes to mind, are we covered by workmens comp when we are driving our employers truck to these job sight and not on the clock. And how about when the truck breaks down and have to sit along side the road anywhere from 1hr to lets say 4 hrs waiting for someone to come look at the broke down truck and only get paid shop time so they call it for the time we sit along side the road. shop time pays $10.00 dollars and hour. its like you get penalized for there truck breaking down which is not in our control. I hope there are some laws against this because if you ask me the employer is taking major advantage of his employees and I think something should be done about this.
    thank you for your time.

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