On-Prem

Personal Tech

Engineer sues Amazon for not covering work-from-home internet, electricity bills

And no, I'm not throwing out this lawsuit, says judge


Amazon's attempt to dismiss a lawsuit, brought by one of its senior software engineers, asking it to reimburse workers for internet and electricity costs racked up while working from home in the pandemic, has been rejected by a California judge.

David George Williams sued his employer for refusing to foot his monthly home office expenses, claiming Amazon is violating California's labor laws. The state's Labor Code section 2802 states: "An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer."

Williams reckons Amazon should not only be paying for its techies' home internet and electricity, but also for any other expenses related to their ad-hoc home office space during the pandemic. Williams sued the cloud giant on behalf of himself and over 4,000 workers employed in California across 12 locations, arguing these costs will range from $50 to $100 per month during the time they were told to stay away from corporate campuses as the coronavirus spread.

"Even using the lower end of plaintiff's alleged range of damages (an alleged $50 per month per class member) places more than $5 million in controversy," his complaint [PDF] stated. "As described above, there are at least 4,200 members of the putative class, and plaintiff alleges that each class member is entitled to $50 for each month of his or her employment by Amazon during the relevant period."

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

"Even though government authorities effectively ordered him to stay home, he claims Amazon.com Services LLC should foot the bill for any expenses he incurred to work remotely, including basic living costs such as electricity and a portion of his housing expenses," they said in a motion to dismiss the case [PDF]. 

"Plaintiff's claims fail because the law does not require Amazon to reimburse expenses that were caused by government actions," the legal eagles argued.

But Vince Chhabaria, a US federal district judge in northern California, slapped down Amazon's attempt to kill off the lawsuit, and said the local government's orders don't necessarily absolve the company from liability. 

"What matters is whether Williams incurred those expenses 'in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer'," Judge Chhabaria ruled [PDF] this week.

"According to the complaint, Amazon expected Williams to continue to work from home after the stay-at-home orders were imposed. That is sufficient to plausibly allege liability, even if Amazon itself was not the but-for cause of the shift to remote work. Williams also plausibly alleges that his expenditures were necessary to do his job."

Chhabaria did grant Amazon's request to dismiss the engineer's claims that it violated California's laws alleging "unfair business practices," but gave Williams's legal team 14 days to file an amended complaint.

The Register has asked Amazon and Williams's lawyer for comment. ®

Send us news
138 Comments

Amazon fears it could run out of US warehouse workers by 2024

Internal research says the hiring pool has already dried up in a number of locations stateside

Jeff Bezos once believed that Amazon's low-skill worker churn was a good thing as a long-term workforce would mean a "march to mediocrity." He may have to eat his words if an internal memo is accurate.

First reported by Recode, the company's 2021 research rather bluntly says: "If we continue business as usual, Amazon will deplete the available labor supply in the US network by 2024."

Some locations will be hit much earlier, with the Phoenix metro area in Arizona expected to exhaust its available labor pool by the end of 2021. The Inland Empire region of California could reach breaking point by the close of this year, according to the research.

Continue reading

Amazon shows off robot warehouse workers that won't complain, quit, unionize...

Mega-corp insists it's all about 'people and technology working safely and harmoniously together'

Amazon unveiled its first "fully autonomous mobile robot" and other machines designed to operate alongside human workers at its warehouses.

In 2012 the e-commerce giant acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics startup, for $775 million. Now, following on from that, Amazon has revealed multiple prototypes powered by AI and computer-vision algorithms, ranging from robotic grippers to moving storage systems, that it has developed over the past decade. The mega-corporation hopes to put them to use in warehouses one day, ostensibly to help staff lift, carry, and scan items more efficiently. 

Its "autonomous mobile robot" is a disk-shaped device on wheels, and resembles a Roomba. Instead of hoovering crumbs, the machine, named Proteus, carefully slots itself underneath a cart full of packages and pushes it along the factory floor. Amazon said Proteus was designed to work directly with and alongside humans and doesn't have to be constrained to specific locations caged off for safety reasons. 

Continue reading

Amazon can't channel the dead, but its deepfake voices take a close second

Megacorp shows Alexa speaking like kid's deceased grandma

In the latest episode of Black Mirror, a vast megacorp sells AI software that learns to mimic the voice of a deceased woman whose husband sits weeping over a smart speaker, listening to her dulcet tones.

Only joking – it's Amazon, and this is real life. The experimental feature of the company's virtual assistant, Alexa, was announced at an Amazon conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Rohit Prasad, head scientist for Alexa AI, described the tech as a means to build trust between human and machine, enabling Alexa to "make the memories last" when "so many of us have lost someone we love" during the pandemic.

Continue reading

Amazon not happy with antitrust law targeting Amazon

We assume the world's smallest violin is available right now on Prime

Updated Amazon has blasted a proposed antitrust law that aims to clamp down on anti-competitive practices by Big Tech.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) led by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and House Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) is a bipartisan bill, with Democrat and Republican support in the Senate and House. It is still making its way through Congress.

The bill [PDF] prohibits certain "online platforms" from unfairly promoting their own products and services in a way that prevents or hampers third-party businesses in competing. Said platforms with 50 million-plus active monthly users in the US or 100,000-plus US business users, and either $550 billion-plus in annual sales or market cap or a billion-plus worldwide users, that act as a "critical trading partner" for suppliers would be affected. 

Continue reading

Not enough desks and parking spots, wobbly Wi-Fi: Welcome back to the office, Tesla staff

Don't worry, the tweetings will continue until morale improves

Employees at Tesla suffered spotty Wi-Fi and struggled to find desks and parking spots when they were returned to work at the office following orders from CEO Elon Musk.

Most tech companies are either following a hybrid work model or are still operating fully remotely. Musk, however, wants his automaker's staff back at the office working for at least 40 hours a week. Those who fail to return risk losing their jobs, he warned in an internal email earlier this month.

"Everyone at Tesla is required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office per week. Moreover, the office must be where your actual colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don't show up, we will assume you have resigned," he wrote.

Continue reading

Trouble hiring? Consider loosening your remote work policy

We're going hybrid or off-prem to retain and lure staff, say polled managers

For bosses suffering the effects of the Great Resignation, IT decision makers taking part in this survey have a suggestion: go remote and you won't have any trouble hiring people.

That's the overall message from Foundry's 2022 Future of Work study, which examined the pandemic's impact on workplaces and how businesses plan to answer the big question on everyone's minds: do we stay remote, return to the office, or try some mutant hybrid approach of the two?

"[Pandemic-era changes] proved largely successful and once all the benefits of working from home became apparent, businesses began to rethink the structure of how their entire company works," said Foundry research manager Stacey Raap.

Continue reading

Alibaba Cloud challenges AWS with its own custom smartNIC

Who'll board the custom silicon bandwagon next?

Alibaba Cloud offered a peek at its latest homegrown silicon at its annual summit this week, which it calls Cloud Infrastructure Processing Units (CIPU).

The data processing units (DPUs), which we're told have already been deployed in a “handful” of the Chinese giant’s datacenters, offload virtualization functions associated with storage, networking, and security from the host CPU cores onto dedicated hardware.

“The rapid increase in data volume and scale, together with higher demand for lower latency, call for the creation of new tech infrastructure,” Alibaba Cloud Intelligence President Jeff Zhang said in a release.

Continue reading

Threat of cross-border data tariffs looms over WTO

Some countries call for moratorium to be lifted, tech industry not keen on potential costs

Concern is growing that a World Trade Organization (WTO) moratorium on cross-border tariffs covering data may not be extended, which would hit e-commerce if countries decide to introduce such tariffs.

Representatives of the WTO's 164 members are meeting in Geneva as part of a multi-day ministerial conference. June 15 was to be the final day but the trade organization today confirmed it is being extended until June 16, to facilitate outcomes on the main issues under discussion.

The current moratorium covering e-commerce tariffs was introduced in 1998, and so far the WTO has extended it at such meetings, which typically take place every two years.

Continue reading

UK health privacy watchdog still in talks over who is accessing country's COVID data store

Over a year after discussions began, National Data Guardian continues to pursue transparency in health data use

More than two years after England launched a COVID data store, keeping details of National Health Service (NHS) patients, the country's National Data Guardian (NDG) remains unsatisfied with who is accessing the data.

The COVID-19 data store was launched in March 2020, and would pull together medical and operational data about the spread of the virus across the country.

Continue reading

Threat and risk specialists signal post-COVID conference season is back on

Well, we'll see in a week or so

RSA Conference For the first time in over two years the streets of San Francisco have been filled by attendees at the RSA Conference and it seems that the days of physical cons are back on.

The security conference trade has been more cautious than most when it comes to getting conferences back up to speed in the COVID years. Almost all cons were virtual with a very limited hybrid-conference season last year, including DEF CON, where masks were taken seriously. People still wanted to mingle and ShmooCon too went ahead, albeit later than usual in March.

The RSA conference has been going for over 30 years and many security folks love going. There are usually some good talks, it's a chance to meet old friends, and certain pubs host meetups where more constructive work gets done on hard security ideas than a month or so of Zoom calls.

Continue reading

AWS says it will cloudify your mainframe workloads

Buyer beware, say analysts, technical debt will catch up with you eventually

AWS is trying to help organizations migrate their mainframe-based workloads to the cloud and potentially transform them into modern cloud-native services.

The Mainframe Modernization initiative was unveiled at the cloud giant's Re:Invent conference at the end of last year, where CEO Adam Selipsky claimed that "customers are trying to get off their mainframes as fast as they can."

Whether this is based in reality or not, AWS concedes that such a migration will inevitably involve the customer going through a lengthy and complex process that requires multiple steps to discover, assess, test, and operate the new workload environments.

Continue reading

Amazon accused of obstructing probe into deadly warehouse collapse

House Dems demand documents from CEO on facility hit by tornado – or else

Updated The US House Oversight Committee has told Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to turn over documents pertaining to the collapse of an Amazon warehouse – and if he doesn't, the lawmakers say they will be forced to "consider alternative measures."

Penned by Oversight Committee members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO) and committee chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the letter refers to the destruction of an Edwardsville, Illinois, Amazon fulfillment center in which six people were killed when a tornado hit. It was reported that the facility received two weather warnings about 20 minutes before the tornado struck at 8.27pm on December 10; most staff had headed to a shelter, some to an area where there were no windows but was hard hit by the storm.

In late March, the Oversight Committee sent a letter to Jassy with a mid-April deadline to hand over a variety of documents, including disaster policies and procedures, communication between managers, employees and contractors, and internal discussion of the tornado and its aftermath.

Continue reading