Engineer sues Amazon for not covering work-from-home costs

Amazon’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit, led by one of its senior software engineers, asking it to reimburse workers for internet and electricity costs accrued while working from home during the pandemic, has was dismissed by a California judge.

David George Williams sued his employer for refusing to pay his monthly home office expenses, claiming Amazon violated California labor laws. Section 2802 of the state Labor Code states: “An employer shall indemnify his employee for all necessary expenses or losses incurred by the employee as a direct result of the performance of his duties or his obedience to the instructions of the employer.”

Williams believes that Amazon should not only pay for its technicians’ home internet and electricity, but also all other expenses related to their ad hoc home office space during the pandemic. Williams sued the cloud giant on its behalf and on behalf of more than 4,000 workers employed in California at 12 locations, arguing that those costs will range from $50 to $100 a month during the time they were told to stay home. away from corporate campuses during the spread of the coronavirus.

“Even using the lower end of plaintiff’s alleged damages range (an alleged $50 per month per class member) places over $5 million in controversy,” its complaint [PDF] declared. “As described above, there are at least 4,200 members of the putative class, and plaintiff alleges that each member of the class is entitled to $50 for each month of their employment with Amazon during the relevant period.”

Amazon lawyers, however, believe broadband and utility bills, and similar expenses, are not the company’s problem because it was following shelter-at-home orders, which require employees to stay away from the office.

“Even though government authorities did order him to stay home, he says Services LLC should foot the bill for all expenses he incurred to work remotely, including living expenses for basics such as electricity and part of his housing costs,” they said. in a motion to dismiss the case [PDF].

“Plaintiff’s claims fail because the law does not require Amazon to reimburse expenses caused by government actions,” the legal eagles argued.

But Vince Chhabaria, a U.S. federal district judge in northern California, dismissed Amazon’s attempt to kill the lawsuit, and said local government orders don’t necessarily absolve the company of liability.

“What matters is whether Williams incurred these expenses ‘as a direct result of performing his duties or obeying the employer’s instructions,’” Judge Chhabaria said. [PDF] this week.

“According to the complaint, Amazon expected Williams to continue working from home after the stay-at-home orders were imposed. This is sufficient to plausibly allege liability, even though Amazon itself was not the main cause of the shift to telecommuting. Williams also plausibly alleges that his expenses were necessary to do his job.

Chhabaria agreed to Amazon’s request to dismiss the engineer’s claims that he violated California laws alleging “unfair trade practices,” but gave Williams’ legal team 14 days to file an amended complaint.

The register asked the lawyer for Amazon and Williams to comment. ®

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