A story in the Seattle Times about injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers shows how a state workers’ compensation agency and enterprising local reporters can focus attention on workers compensation.
First of all, for now, First Reports of Injury, are public records. Any interested party can look at those reports. But of course those reports don’t always correlate with an injury and they are based on what an employer reports.
But if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound? I bring up this old question to discuss the gradual disappearance of local journalism. If news happens, but there are no reporters to cover it does news exist?. Lee Enterprises has made Nebraska a one newspaper state. Lee has nearly halved the number of reporters at Omaha World-Herald in the last two years. Any long time readers of the Lincoln Journal-Star or Omaha World-Herald know from first-hand experience how the news content in those papers has thinned out over the years.
The first development is the fact that Amazon has patented its delivery drones for aerial surveillance. This technology is intended for home security but it could easily be transitioned for surveilling injured employees. Granted, technology companies tend to oversell their technological innovations, but Amazon plans on starting drone delivery by the end of this year.
But in reality, many blue-collar jobs can be every bit as mentally stressful, if not more stressful, than white-collar jobs. The Daily Beast ran an investigative report involving suicide attempts by workers in Amazon warehouses. The mental stress comes from trying to keep up with the fast pace of work.
I hear many of the same complaints about stress from about the pace of work from my clients who work in meat packinghouses. A work injury can often worsen the stress of keeping up with production because a physical injury usually makes it harder to do a job. The Daily Beast article profiled one worker who suffered increased mental problems after an ankle injury on the job impacted his ability to keep up with the demands of his job.
Mental stress is part of my many workplaces, but purely mental injuries usually aren’t covered by workers’ compensation laws. For a mental injury to a warehouse worker in Nebraska to covered by workers’ compensation, it would have to be directly related to a physical injury. Mental stress from being unable to keep up with job demands due to a physical injury could be covered.
My view is the answer to why so-called mental-mental benefits tend to be limited to first responders is politics. Retail workers and non-unionized warehouse workers don’t have the kind of clout as police officers or firefighters.
First responders deserve mental-mental workers’ compensation benefits because they can be subject to terrible trauma on the job. But other workers can be also be subject to serious mental distress on the job. That stress should be covered by workers’ compensation laws in Nebraska and other states.
Part of the story was why Amazon raised wages. Some pointed to low unemployment while others pointed to popular criticism of Amazon’s labor practices. That criticism was expemplied by the Stop BEZOS Act targeting Amezon that was introducted in the Senate by Bernie Sanders.
If you watch Shameless you know the character Frank Gallagher. Frank is a terrible drunk and overall person. But occassionally Frank will seem to get his stuff in order only to fall back into his usual antics. Amazon’s labor practices are like Frank Gallagher’s behavior, every once in awhile he will get his stuff together and demand all sorts of credit. But sooner or later, as the millenials say on social media, he is back on his bulls***.
Back in June, I blogged about a Walmart program where Walmart employees were being used to deliver packages. I pointed out in the piece that at least Walmart delivery drivers would be treated as employees in contrast to Fed Ex drivers and now Amazon drivers who have no employment protections like workers compensation or unemployment insurance if they get hurt on the job.
On social media, I’ve pointed out that Walmart actually seems to be better on employee classification than Amazon. That’s a pretty startling admission from me as Walmart has long been a target of criticism for their employment practices from our firm and any other sentient employee rights advocate with a platform.
Unfortunately, U.S. employment laws are not equipped to deal with the day-to-day mental strains placed on retail workers. Workers compensation laws generally do not compensate purely mental injuries. Workplace bullying or harassment is only legally actionable if the harassment is severe or pervasive and motivated by an unlawful factor like race, religion, nationality, sex, disability, etc.
The mere fact that you signed an agreement where you agreed to be an independent contractor doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an independent contractor, but it could affect your ability to collect some employment benefits, like workers’ compensation benefits. If you are hurt as an independent contractor, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in your state, as laws are state specific. If you believe you are not being paid for breaks, overtime or even being paid the minimum wage as an independent contractor, then contact an experienced employment attorney as there are both federal and state laws that protect employees who are misclassified as independent contractors.
Employee misclassification adds another layer of risk for employees who hold second jobs over the holidays or any other time of the year. True independent contractors are not eligible for workers’ compensation, but many, if not most, temporary holiday jobs would not qualify for independent-contractor status. Workers’ compensation was never designed to compensate people for pain and suffering, but in the case of those injured on lower-paid holiday or second jobs, workers’ compensation benefits may not even remotely pay you for how an injury affects your ability to earn a living. Be sure to weigh the risks of taking a holiday job or any second job.
Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that contracted warehouse workers for Amazon did not have to be paid for time spent waiting to clear through an anti-theft security screening after their shifts. Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that time spent in an after-work security screening was not integral and indispensable to the primary activity of a warehouse worker, therefore not covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. So what does that mean for you?
First of all, this should mean that any worker who has to go through a security check after work will not have to be paid by their employer for the time that process takes. However other pre- and post- workday activities should still be covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Donning and doffing safety equipment is still compensable because such safety equipment helps an employee work safely. Call-center workers still should be paid for time spent booting up and logging into a computer and phone because a call-center employee is unable to do their job if they are not logged into their phones and computers. Employees should also consult with a lawyer about state wage and hour law as state law may be friendlier to employees.