Your Lost Wages Are My Business. Call: 432-242-7118 or 817-908-9861 Call: 432-242-7118 or 817-908-9861

Oil and Gas Field Workers improperly classified as exempt and wrongfully denied overtime pay

Hardworking oilfield workers have, yet again, gained a favorable result from the court with respect to recovering their overtime wages in Pye v. Oil States Energy Services, LLC, 233 F. Supp. 3d 541 (W.D.Tex. 2017). While oil and gas companies often claim that their workers are exempt in order to deny them overtime pay, the Pye case illustrates that field workers in the oil and gas industry are frequently improperly classified as exempt and wrongfully denied overtime pay.

FLSA and the Motor Carrier Act Exemption

The FLSA establishes the general rule that employees must receive overtime compensation at one and one-half times the regular rate for hours worked in excess of 40 hours during a seven-day workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). However, there are certain employees that are statutorily exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. The Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption says that the FLSA’s overtime requirement “shall not apply . . . to . . . any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of” the MCA. However, the Technical Corrections Act of 2008 (“TCA”) permits covered employees to be entitled to overtime. An example of a covered employee is an individual who is employed by a motor carrier who performs duties on motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

Additionally, the FLSA does not apply to an employee in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity. The applicability of these “white collar” exemptions depends on the duties of a worker, but they are rarely applicable to oilfield workers whose primary job duties are manual labor.

In Pye, the plaintiff sought partial summary judgment regarding the “inapplicability” of the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption and the bona fide administrative, executive, and professional exemptions “which would excuse the Defendant oil company from fulfilling the FLSA’s overtime responsibility.” Pye, 233 F. Supp at 551. The Defendant, Oil States Energy Services, provides products and services in the oil and and gas industry. Plaintiff Pye was employed at Oil States as a tool operator, then as a filed service supervisor where he was paid a salary. Plaintiff drove the Defendants’ vehicles, including crane trucks, 5500 trucks with gooseneck trailers, and Ford F-250 pick-up trucks. These vehicles traveled to Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Plaintiff would take the equipment from the vehicles and set it up to pump materials into the wells by maneuvering the equipment into place and using the tools to secure the equipment. The Plaintiff would then rig-down the equipment and transport the equipment and vehicles back to the yard.

With regard to the MCA exemption, plaintiff argued “he is a `covered employee’ under the TCA’s exception to the MCA” because he “performed numerous, meaningful and substantial work assignments and duties as a driver of a motor vehicle with gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less.” Id. With respect to the administrative exemption, plaintiff argues the work he performed “was manual and physical” and he “never worked in” the “functional areas” set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 541.201(b), that are “related to management or general business operations.” Id. With respect to the executive exemption, plaintiff argued his `primary duty’ did not involve managing Defendant or any `customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof.’ Id. Lastly, with respect to the professional exemption, plaintiff argues his “primary duty did not require `knowledge of an advanced type'”—”nothing more than a high school diploma was required to perform” his job for the defendant. Id.

Motor Carrier Act Exemption “covered employee” definition

In response to the MCA exemption and TCA “covered employee” definition, defendant argued two main points. First, defendant argues the gross vehicle weight rating of its “pickup trucks” should be considered in addition to the “weight of the fuel tank, attached toolbox, and additional affixed to the pickups to determine the actual weight”—using a combined gross vehicle weight rating. Id. Second, defendant argued this Court should follow the “prevailing view” that the MCA exemption is applicable “so long as `the time an employee spends operating commercial motor vehicles is more’ than just something minor. Id.

Administrative Exemption under the FLSA

For the administrative exemption, defendant argued three main points: (1) plaintiff was “paid at least $455 per week”; (2) plaintiff’s “primary duty was non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of Oil States”; and (3) plaintiff’s job duties “involved the exercise of independent judgment and discretion.” The Court found that the defendant presented no responsive argument for the executive and professional exemption. Id. at 552.

The Court ordered that the Defendants may not defend themselves against overtime violations of the FLSA by claiming the MCA exemption, under 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1), or the bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity exemptions. The Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and stated that the Defendants’ arguments with respect to all four of those claimed exemptions have no merit.

This case is a great example of how the FLSA exemptions often do not apply to oilfield workers. If you are an oilfield worker that has been denied overtime pay, consider speaking to an experienced overtime attorney. Josh Borsellino is an overtime attorney licensed in Texas that represents oilfield workers who have been illegally denied overtime pay. Josh fights for the rights of oilfield workers that have been denied overtime pay. Josh accepts overtime cases on a contingency basis, meaning that he only gets paid if money is recovered from the company being sued. Josh provides free consultations for anyone with questions about overtime pay. He may be reached at 817.908.9861 or 432.242.7118