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Washington Supreme Court decides “drive time” case

In Stevens v. Brinks, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to decide if service technicians who were provided with company trucks that they took home every night were entitled to be paid for their drive time from home to a job site and back. For the employees to be entitled to compensation under the Washington Minimum Wage Act (WMWA), the employees have to be “on duty” and in a “prescribed work place” as those terms are used in WAC 296-126-002(8).

The technicians were “on duty.”

In deciding the technicians were “on duty” under WAC 296-126-002(8), the court found the following facts compelling. Brinks’ technicians received their job assignments at home, either on their voice mail or their computer. After receiving their job assignments, the employees would map out the best route to the job site. While en route to their first job site, the employer reserved the right to reassign job tasks or direct them to assist on other job sites. In addition, the employees were not allowed to use the company truck for any non-business related activity such as shopping and carrying passengers that were not Brinks’ employees. Brinks’ also required employees to wear their seat belts, abide by traffic laws, not park their truck haphazardly, and keep the vehicle locked when it was not occupied. The court felt these facts distinguished the technicians’ use of their trucks from ordinary commuting. Generally speaking, people engage in a variety of personal activities while commuting such as errands (stopping at the grocery store or the cleaners) and ride-sharing. Here, the court found it significant that employer controlled virtually every aspect of the employees’ use of the company trucks.

The truck was a “prescribed work place.”

Next the court had to decide whether the company truck constituted a “prescribed work place” under WAC 296-126-002(8). The court found that driving a truck was an integral part of the work performed by the technicians. Due to the nature of the job, the trucks were used to travel to customer’s homes, carry tools and equipment, and complete reports. The technicians were also required to keep the trucks clean, organized and serviced. Based on these facts, the court found the Brinks’ trucks were a “prescribed work place” under WAC 296-126-002(8).

Brinks was held accountable for the employees’ wages while traveling from home to a job site and from their last job site home.

The Bottom Line:

Wage and Hour claims can be particularly costly for employers. A relatively small amount of wage loss asserted by one employee can become a huge amount when calculated over the entire workforce, doubled for wilful withholding of wages, adding interest at 12% from the date the employee should have be paid those wages and including the employee’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice or to form an attorney client relationship. The information provided is general in nature. Nothing can substitute for a consultation with a legal professional who can address your particular legal concern.

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