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US Court of Appeals Addresses Pizza Delivery Driver Reimbursement; Here's What it Said

Sixth Circuit clarifies FLSA reimbursement for delivery drivers, setting precedent.
Uber Eats and Glovo drivers outside La Puttana Pizza restaurant waiting for take-out pizzas | Getty Images | Photo by Horacio Villalobos
Uber Eats and Glovo drivers outside La Puttana Pizza restaurant waiting for take-out pizzas | Getty Images | Photo by Horacio Villalobos

Debates about tipping culture in the US have also put the spotlight on wages for workers providing services in the food and beverages sector among others. In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit addressed the issue of reimbursing pizza delivery drivers for vehicle-related expenses under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The court highlighted the need for a proper method to determine reimbursement that aligns with minimum wage requirements.

Pexels | Photo by Polina Tankilevitch
Pexels | Photo by Polina Tankilevitch


In cases, Parker v. Battle Creek Pizza, Inc., and Bradford v. Team Pizza, Inc., pizza delivery drivers alleged that their employers did not adequately reimburse them for vehicle expenses, resulting in wages below the minimum wage mandated by the FLSA.

The FLSA doesn't mandate vehicle expense reimbursement, but if such expenses cause wages to fall below the minimum wage, it constitutes a violation. Two different reimbursement methods were in question, with one based on mileage, and the other involving a flat rate per delivery. The plaintiffs argued that the IRS mileage rate should be the standard reimbursement method, while the defendants contended that a "reasonable approximation" of drivers' expenses sufficed.

The court noted that the IRS mileage rate, while widely used, doesn't accurately reflect individual drivers' actual costs, leading to potential underpayment or overpayment. Additionally, the court dismissed the argument that a "reasonable approximation" of expenses was sufficient, emphasizing the importance of accurately compensating drivers for their actual costs.

With neither method deemed appropriate, the Sixth Circuit suggested a burden-shifting approach for future cases. This approach would require employees to demonstrate inadequate reimbursement, with employers then needing to prove a "demonstrable relationship" between reimbursement and actual costs.

Bikers from take away food delivery company | Getty Images | Photo by Eric Lafforgue
Bikers from take away food delivery company | Getty Images | Photo by Eric Lafforgue

The Sixth Circuit's ruling on vehicle expense reimbursement has significant implications for pizza delivery drivers and other workers using personal vehicles. By clarifying standards under the FLSA, the decision provides clear guidance for employers and employees navigating reimbursement practices. This ruling particularly resonates in the gig economy and industries heavily reliant on delivery services, where workers commonly use their vehicles for work purposes. As such, the decision underscores the importance of ensuring that employees are fairly compensated for the expenses incurred while performing their job duties, setting a precedent for equitable treatment within the workforce.

The ruling has prompted discussions within the industry about best practices for reimbursing employees for vehicle expenses. Employers may need to reevaluate their reimbursement policies to align with the standards set forth by the Sixth Circuit. Some experts suggest that a standardized method for calculating reimbursement, tailored to individual circumstances, could help streamline compliance efforts and ensure fairness for workers.

As the issue of vehicle expense reimbursement continues to evolve, stakeholders anticipate further guidance from regulatory bodies and potential legislative actions. Employers and workers alike must stay informed about changes in reimbursement policies and ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. The Sixth Circuit's decision serves as a reminder of the importance of fair compensation practices and the need for clarity in interpreting labor laws to protect the rights of worker.