A group of Amazon warehouse workers in California who are suing the e-commerce giant claiming they were denied proper meal and rest breaks will now have to turn in some of their personal phone records for scrutiny.
A California federal court on Monday granted Amazon’s motion to obtain the workers’ phone records — their personal calls, e-mails, texts sent through messaging apps and activities on social media during their shifts — although they can redact confidential information like phone numbers and the content of messages. The order would apply to the seven named plaintiffs in the suit, and not the broader group of warehouse workers they hope to represent down the road.
Magistrate Judge Barbara McAuliffe allowed Amazon’s request, finding that it would help pin down actual work hours and rest breaks during shifts, since Amazon’s hourly wage workers have to keep their phones away in their lockers or cars while they’re working. She also said being able to redact “substantive content,” such as phone numbers, recipients’ identities and the messages themselves, would adequately address employees’ privacy concerns.
“Records establishing whether and for how long plaintiffs engaged in personal activities, such as telephone calls, texts or Internet use, during the working day are relevant to whether plaintiffs were provided with compliant meal and rest breaks,” she wrote in the ruling.
Representatives for Amazon and an attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately comment on Monday.
The development provides another window into workplace policies at Amazon’s warehouses, and illuminates some of the privacy issues that can come up as legal trench battles get under way in employees’ wage and hour lawsuits. Retailers commonly face such suits, which deal with issues of wages, overtime pay and meal and rest breaks.
A common thread in these cases is the question of documentation around time-keeping, to offer evidence of the hours the employees worked and the duration of their meal and rest breaks.
Attorneys for the employees had argued that asking workers to submit such detailed phone records would be too much of an imposition, especially given that the workers in the suit intend to represent a proposed class of numerous other similar warehouse workers in the state. They argued that the company’s own time-keeping records should be the appropriate evidence needed to show workers’ actual rest and meal breaks.
Amazon had contended that it sought only the phone records of the seven named plaintiffs in the suit and not the whole proposed class. The proposed class would include warehouse workers in California who had worked at such Amazon fulfillment centers in recent years. Such a class would include thousands of hourly wage workers, the plaintiffs said in court filings.
The company also argued that because the hourly workers don’t clock out for rest breaks, such phone records would offer better evidence about break durations.
“For example, if [a plaintiff’s] e-mail records show that he sent three e-mails over the course of 11 minutes around the time he customarily took a rest break, that would tend to establish that he received a 10-minute rest break on that day,” Amazon wrote in a recent court filing.
The dispute involves a consolidated case in California federal court by a few different groups of Amazon warehouse workers making a number of claims, including for unpaid or underpaid overtime work particularly during holiday seasons where they said they worked shifts up to 12 hours.
They claimed that they were also denied proper “uninterrupted” 30-minute meal break periods and 10-minute rest periods every four hours of work, as required under California labor laws.
Federal law can be less permissive. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, federal laws don’t require employers to provide such breaks, though it views short breaks of between five to 20 minutes as “compensable work hours,” according to the DOL web site.