Washington Supreme Court Upholds Wage Averaging In Trucking Industry

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The Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision September 5stating that trucking companies are not obligated to pay drivers separately for “non-piece rate” activities.

In the case of Sampson v. Knight Transportation, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the Washington minimum wage law requires employers to pay separately for time spent on non-piece rate activities, which the plaintiffs had argued were any non-driving activities.

“The Washington State Supreme Court decided that, look, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as the pay you receive for the hours that you work is equivalent to at least the Washington minimum wage,” said Adam Smedstad, a partner with the transportation law firm, Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary. 

That practice is known as wage averaging. “What the court said,” explained Smedstad, “is if an employer pays $50 based on a mileage piece rate, the employer is entitled to credit that $50 to all work the employee performed, whether it was driving or not driving.”

“You take the total amount of wages for work week divided by the total number of hours, and if the resulting figure is at least minimum wage then you have complied with Washington law.”

Plaintiff Valerie Sampson had filed a lawsuit claiming Knight Transportation engaged in wage and hour violations, including failing to pay drivers for all of their work, failing to pay drivers for their rest breaks and making unlawful deductions to the wages.

Attorneys for the plaintiff could not immediately be reached for comment.

In its ruling, the court distinguished the case from Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co., in which the court expressly held that agricultural employers could not wage average. The agriculture industry in Washington is excluded from some of the pay regulations that govern other industries, Smedstad said.

The Sampson decision also drew a distinction between Washington state and California, where a statute requires employers to pay for activities for time spent on activities not related to the piece. 

Smedstad said there was concern on the part of industry that the court would follow California’s lead in the wage and hour arena as it did when it manufactured meal and rest break penalties.

While Washington State has meal and rest break requirements similar to California, the statute does not provide for a remedy for missed or not provided rest breaks. The Washington State Supreme Court responded by fashioning a remedy for missed meal breaks, “so there was some concern [the Knight case] was going to go the California route,” Smedstad said.

The latest ruling puts Washington state back in line with federal law with respect to determining compliance with minimum wage laws, Smedstad said, as the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to wage average.

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