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

Someone has to say it: Voice assistants are not doing it for big tech

Alexa, how does Amazon decide when the grand plan for conversational commerce has failed?

Amazon founder Bezos to donate 'majority' of $126bn fortune

Climate change goals? Tick. Upping wages and improving working conditions for warehouse staff? Come on Jeff, charity begins at home

Amazon quits India's frenzied edtech market

Plenty of top tech CEOs graduated from the country's unis, which are seen as a ticket to prosperity

Amazon reportedly considers laying off 10k employees

Alexa, do I have a job? Staff in corporate and technology positions in line of fire

Too soon? Amazon commissions FTX mini-series

Spoiler alert: court proceedings suggest crypto exchange was a mess and investors will be out of pocket

Foxconn workers protest over pay and lockdowns at iPhone factory in China

Contractor apologizes for 'technical error occurred during the onboarding process'

Apple and Amazon conspired to raise iPhone and iPad prices, claims class action lawsuit

Alleges agreement choked resellers using Amazon Marketplace, eliminated 98% of competition

It would take a 'catastrophic' recession to stop tech spend growth, says IBM boss

Tells Economic Club of New York no one he knows is trimming IT budgets

Microsoft makes a game of Team building, with benefits

Solitaire and Minesweeper coming to Windows giant's software

Investor tells Google: Cut costs now and stop paying staff so much

Also wants Alphabet to slash losses in Waymo division, buy back shares, lots of them

Boffins find COVID changed the way sysadmins work – probably for the worse

Crisis mode led to more formal meetings and lists, which just make more useless work

Salesforce trims workforce as growth slows post-lockdowns

The COVID-era hiring spree which saw thousands onboarded comes to an abrupt end