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A class-action lawsuit argues that Amazon should pay employees’ work-from-home expenses incurred during the height of COVID-19 — and a California judge rejected Amazon’s request to dismiss the lawsuit on Wednesday.
David Williams — a senior software engineer at the e-commerce giant — “sued his employer for refusing to foot his monthly home office expenses,” according to The Register, “on behalf of himself and over 4,000 workers employed in California across 12 locations.”
The lawsuit contends that Amazon should expect to pay $50 to $100 per month for electricity and internet costs accrued when the company sent employees home due to the spread of COVID-19. Amazon, however, argued that it is not responsible for the expenses because it sent employees home in reaction to government lockdown orders, Bloomberg reported.
In his order rejecting Amazon’s request to dismiss the suit, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said that the firm would not be absolved of liability even if its argument were valid. He referred to California labor law, which says that an employer must “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.”
More than two years after COVID-19 sent the United States economy into a recession, millions of Americans are continuing to work from home. As of February 2022, 59% of employees who said they could do their jobs from home were working remotely all or most of the time — a significant increase from the 23% who did the same before the spread of COVID-19, according to Pew Research.
Indeed, many executives are wrestling with the decision to call their employees back into the office. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for example, told executives this week in an email that “remote work is no longer” acceptable at the electric automaker.
“If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly,” he noted, adding that the workplace “must be a main Tesla office, not a remote branch office unrelated to the job duties, for example being responsible for Fremont factory human relations, but having your office in another state.”
Replying to a social media commenter asking for a response to people who think “coming into work is an antiquated concept,” Musk remarked: “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”
In the United States, only 22% of employees can work virtually between three and five days a week without decreasing productivity, according to a report from consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
Other countries’ legal systems are weighing similar questions about their labor laws in the wake of the lockdowns. When a German man fell down the stairs and broke his back while moving from his bed to his home office, a court ruled that his journey was “insured as an activity in the interest of his employer, as a commute to work.”
Killian O’Brien, who lectures on German law at University College London, told CNN Business that firms in the central European nation must prepare for “an increased category of activities and events that you can carry out… that will now be covered,” adding that insurers will likely “have to revisit this ruling often.”