A trio of drivers from Amazon's delivery service are suing the online retailer, claiming to be employees, not independent contractors, according to the Wall Street Journal. This isn't the first time Amazon has faced litigation on this front. In October 2015, drivers for the Amazon Prime Now service sued the company, and by February, some of those drivers were reclassified as full-time employees (they were working for a subcontractor that fulfilled Amazon's Prime Prime Now deliveries.)
Filed last week in Federal Court in Seattle, the latest proposed class-action lawsuit by drivers for Amazon.com and Amazon Logistics Inc., alleges Amazon violated federal labor law by classifying them as contractors, but they are actually employees, the Journal reports. As happens in many of these cases, the drivers want back wages, overtime and compensation for fuel, car maintenance and other expenses.
The plaintiffs use a program called Amazon Flex, an app that drivers can use to choose the shifts they want to work, as well as schedule their own deliveries. As the Journal notes, the question of how to classify “gig economy” workers has been creating legal turmoil for many Silicon Valley-based on-demand services firms such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Postmates Inc. In their defense, say the employers, workers prefer independent status due to its scheduling flexibility.
This issue is one of the most perplexing among those connected to the "gig economy," both for employers and workers. For example, there is evidence in the form of a survey that backs the companies that says most contract workers wish to remain independent. And some employers have decided that making independent contractors full-time employees makes good business sense.
But it is clear that no one has yet found a solid answer. For example, a judge recently struck down a $100 million settlement between Uber and its drivers, meaning the battle will continue there, while FedEx Corp. settled with drivers for $240 million earlier this year. The lawsuits in these cases are coming fast and furious, according to Seyfarth Shaw, the employment law firm. For affected HR leaders, it's a complex, confusing legal process that needs close attention.