The New York City holiday season is bustling, festive and filled with tradition – think Handel’s Messiah, Dyker Heights light displays, West Village holiday windows, Central Park skating, carriage rides, the Met Christmas tree, the Union Square Holiday Market and – wait for it – armies of parcel delivery trucks.
About 1.5 million packages arrive at New York City destinations every single day, reports the New York Times. New Yorkers cannot miss the accompanying congestion, pollution and noise, but other human problems may not be so obvious. The complex pressure cooker that is the patchwork of delivery companies trying to get more packages to their destinations faster is a dizzying logistical nightmare.
And a related problem is the tendency for some employers in this industry to let slide New York and federal labor law standards for overtime pay, wage payment, meal and rest breaks, and other wage-and-hour requirements.
Several media outlets report that the load placed on delivery drivers is so heavy that to make their daily numbers, drivers may feel they cannot even take bathroom and meal breaks.
Delivery contractors and employee classification
Large delivery companies tend to contract with other, usually smaller companies to take on much of the truck-delivery load. A common complaint is that many drivers do not even understand who they work for, which is a problem when drivers believe they may have been underpaid.
A related problem is proper classification of drivers as either employees or independent contractors, which impacts directly whether wage-and-hour law apply to them.
Broadly, whether the delivery company is a legal employer – either the sole employer or a joint employer with the third-party contracted freight company – depends largely on the degree of control over details of the work as well as supervision exerted over workers.
According to Business Insider, legal counsel for drivers in wage-and-hour lawsuits in which drivers were hired by delivery contractors but the work was contracted to Amazon are asserting that Amazon’s level of control makes it a joint employer also bound by labor laws. This would mean that Amazon would be responsible for paying overtime, providing required breaks and more.
The New York Times describes how Amazon requires drivers of third-party delivery companies under contract to attend Amazon trainings and how Amazon sets routes and assigns package quotas. The company may require drivers from contracted companies to wear Amazon uniforms, and Amazon can allegedly indirectly fire someone by putting pressure on the contracted company.
Legal guidance is important
Any delivery company of any size that hires drivers directly or contracts with other delivery companies either to provide drivers or for the services of other companies’ drivers should seek guidance from experienced legal counsel. It is important to clarify whether a driver is an employee or an independent contractor to understand wage-and-hour responsibilities. Just labeling a driver as one or the other is not enough – it is the actual control and supervision exerted over the driver’s work that determines the legal relationship.
Similarly, any delivery driver concerned about whether they are being properly paid overtime, receiving proper breaks or with other wage-and-hour issues should speak with a lawyer to understand their legal rights and potential legal remedies for violations.