Labor and Employment

Are Transportation Employees Exempt From Overtime?

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Work for an airline, railroad, or other transporation industry? Learn whether you're covered by federal laws on overtime pay.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay workers overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. However, there are a number of exceptions to this general rule. Overtime laws do not apply to some types of employees. These employees are known as "exempt," and are not entitled to overtime pay, even if they work more than their scheduled hours, more than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours a week.

Whether or not you qualify for overtime pay depends on the kind of work you do (and, in some cases, how much money you make). For example, white collar employees are exempt if they earn more than $970 per week and their job duties fit within one of the exceptions to the overtime law. To be exempt as a manager, for instance, an employee must regularly supervise at least two other employees, among other things. (To learn more about these exemptions for office workers, see White Collar Exemptions Under the FLSA.)

Many employees who work in the transportation industry are also exempt, including those who work as:

  • airline employees
  • motor carriers
  • railroad employees
  • local drivers and their helpers, and
  • taxicab drivers.

Below, we provide some basic information about these common exemptions for transportation employees.

Airline Employees

The FLSA overtime pay requirements do not apply to any employee of an air carrier that is subject to the provisions of the federal Railway Labor Act. If an air carrier is engaged in interstate or foreign commerce or in the transportation of the U.S. mail, it is subject to the Railway Labor Act and, therefore, it is within the overtime exemption.

A company will also qualify as an air carrier if it has been issued an air taxi and commercial operations (ATCO) certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration or it holds itself out to the public as willing to transport for hire, indiscriminately.

Although the exemption requires that the employer be an air carrier, it is not an industry or establishment exemption. Rather, it applies to employees of the air carrier when they are engaged in duties related to air transportation. If an employee does other types of work, unrelated to air transport, for more than 20% of the employee’s workweek, the employee will not be exempt.

Motor Carriers

Employees of motor carriers (those who provide transportation by motor vehicle for pay) are exempt from overtime under the FLSA if the U.S. Secretary of Transportation has the power to regulate their minimum qualifications and maximum hours of service under the Motor Carrier Act.

To be exempt, the employee’s duties must include performing activities that affect safety on a motor vehicle driven on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce. The employee must work as a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic.

Railroad Employees

Employees of an employer engaged in the operation of a common carrier by rail are generally exempt from overtime. The carrier must be engaged in interstate commerce in the transportation of passengers or property by railroad. Employers within this category include railroad carriers, express companies, sleeping car companies and refrigerator car companies.

Local Drivers and Their Helpers

Certain local drivers and their helpers are also exempt from the statutory overtime requirements. To qualify for exemption, local delivery employees must be compensated on the basis of trip-rates, or another payment plan based on deliveries, if the Secretary of Labor finds that the payment plan has the general purpose and effect of reducing their hours worked to below 40 hours per week.

The purpose of the exemption is to treat local delivery employees who are not under regulation of the Secretary of Transportation the same as interstate drivers and their helpers who are. The employer must get prior approval of a plan to operate under this overtime exemption from the Secretary of Labor.

Taxicab Drivers

Taxicab drivers are also exempt from the statutory overtime requirement. Any driver working for an employer engaged in the business of operating taxicabs is exempt from the overtime requirement. However, employees who don’t drive—such as dispatchers, supervisors, and clerical workers—don’t fit into this exemption. (They may qualify as exempt white collar employees, depending on their earnings and job duties.)

Talk to an Attorney

As you can see, the overtime exemptions for transportation employees can be complicated. If you believe you have been misclassified as an exempt employee—and you should be earning overtime—consult with an experienced employment attorney.

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