January 20, 2021 2:30 PM, EST

Safety Equipment, Training for Contractors Doesn’t Endanger Status, DOL Says

Independent contractorphotovs/Getty Images

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The U.S. Department of Labor has issued an opinion letter ruling that motor carriers can supply independent contractors safety equipment such as dash cams, speed limiters and driver monitoring systems, and also require that they take safety training without jeopardizing their independent contractor status.

“We conclude that the safety measures do not constitute control for purposes of determining independent contractor status and that the owner-operators are likely independent contractors,” said the detailed eight-page letter, written by DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.

The determination letter was written in response to two requests, one made by American Trucking Associations and another by an unnamed transportation and logistics provider, and was based on a number of different scenarios posed by the requesters.

DOL Letter by Transport Topics

The first request asked whether requiring tractor-trailer truck drivers to implement safety measures required by law constitutes control by the motor carrier for purposes of their status as employees or independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The second request provided a detailed factual scenario and asked whether certain owner-operators are properly classified as independent contractors.

“Based on the facts provided in the first request, we conclude that the requirements to comply with certain legal, health and safety obligations are not a factor in determining whether a driver is an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA,” the letter said. “Based on the facts provided in the second request, we conclude that the owner-operators are likely independent contractors.”

The opinion letter, which came after the request from ATA, specifically allows motor carriers to provide or require various types of safety training and safety equipment to drivers without endangering their status as independent contractors, ATA said.

“Today’s letter is a victory for highway safety and for the thousands of truck drivers who choose to be independent contractors,” ATA President Chris Spear said in a statement. “This opinion will make it easier for motor carriers to utilize owner-operators, while maintaining important safety standards, without risking those drivers’ independent contractor status.”

Chris Spear


Spear added, “This opinion letter applies only to federal law, but many states rely on federal law and letters like this to make policy. Going forward, state policymakers and the courts should value this opinion, and in doing so encourage motor carriers and owner-operators to enhance training and technology, improving highway safety for all Americans while also allowing drivers to maintain their independent status.”

The letter said that Congress and federal regulators have placed significant responsibility on motor carriers for their independent contractors’ safety performance, distinguishing the trucking industry from many other businesses and industry sectors. “This translates to a strong incentive for motor carriers to pursue safety measures and improve regulatory compliance with respect to all of their drivers, employees and independent contractors alike,” the letter said.

The letter added that:

  • Camera and sensor-based safety systems monitor the driver, some internal components of the vehicle and some external conditions.
  • The speed-limiter prevents the driver only from driving in a way that the law prohibits.
  • The mandatory meetings and trainings educate drivers on their legal obligations to drive safely.

“A contractual obligation to comply with safety requirements requires no particular action except what the law already requires,” said the letter, signed by Cheryl Stanton, administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. “Each of these are the types of legal, health and safety standards that do not suggest control indicative of employee status.”

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The opinion letter follows a final rule issued Jan. 6 by DOL revising its interpretation of independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act that it said will “promote certainty for stakeholders, reduce litigation and encourage innovation in the economy.”

The new federal rule, due to become effective March 8, generally is more favorable for motor carriers than the so-called ABC test used in the California Assembly Bill 5 law to determine whether a truck driver is an employee or independent contractor, said Gregory Feary, a partner in Indianapolis-based law firm Scopelitis Garvin Light Hanson and Feary PC, who focuses on independent contractor issues.

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