On January 15, 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals settled, for now, whether California’s meal and rest break requirements were pre-empted by federal law. The Court ruled that the Federal Carrier Motor Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) determination that the California rules were pre-empted was proper.
California’s rules are generally stricter than those provided federally, with California’s rules requiring employers to allow drivers more rest breaks, at greater frequency, and with less room as to when the breaks can occur. In 2018, the FMCSA reviewed California’s rules and determined they were pre-empted by the rules set forth by the agency.
Teamsters challenged the FMCSA’s determination but their arguments were dismissed by the Court, which found that California’s rules clearly applied to drivers of commercial vehicles and were meant to promote driver and public safety. Thus, California’s rules fall within federal law and are pre-empted.
However, the ruling still leaves open potential policy changes in the future. The Ninth Circuit’s decision simply states that the FMCSA’s determination is proper. In the future, a change in policy, particularly with a new administration, could lead to a different determination by the agency to potentially allow California’s rules to proceed.