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If you ever thought your grocery store ought to pay you for doing a cashier’s job while scanning your own groceries at self-checkout – don’t get your hopes up.

A California judge has thrown out a lawsuit that sought to force Albertsons to pay cashier’s wages to shoppers who use self-checkout machines in their stores.

Shopper Sophia Sadlowski filed a lawsuit in San Francisco County Superior Court earlier this year, seeking to force Albertsons to pay self-checkout users “at least the minimum wage” for “the uncompensated work performed by their customers.”

Since “the cashier work performed by Albertsons’ customers is substantially identical to the cashier work performed by Albertsons’ paid cashiers,” both should receive the same benefits, the lawsuit argued. Sadlowski sought back pay and future payment for all Albertsons shoppers in California who had used self-checkout any time over the past four years.

Albertsons called the lawsuit “absurd,” saying self-checkout is a “convenient option” and not a requirement for its customers. “A customer does not become an employee simply because that customer, with no reasonable expectation of compensation, chooses to shop at a particular store and then uses a self-checkout kiosk to complete the transaction,” its response to Sadlowski’s lawsuit read.

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The judge in the case agreed, and has now ordered the case to be dismissed. Sadlowski’s case argued that “customers are transformed into employees when they do the work of the checkout employees,” judge Curtis E.A. Karnow wrote in his order. But “Albertsons neither compels customers to use the (self-checkout) kiosk nor does it stop customers from doing so.” Shoppers have the choice, he pointed out, and don’t automatically become employees of the store when they choose self-checkout.

Arguing the alternative “would yield absurd results” across the retail industry, Karnow stated. It “would lead to customers becoming employees of all sorts of commercial enterprises, e.g. customers who pump their own gas, use an ATM, fill their soda cup at a restaurant, use self-service airline check-in, operate credit card machines at restaurants when purchasing take-out, etc.,” which would require all of those retailers to “collect (customers’) social security information, establish they can legally work, ensure required breaks, and all the other accoutrements of employment.”

His conclusion echoes that of Albertsons itself, which said Sadlowski’s argument could be construed to extend to grocery shoppers who “push their own shopping cart and pick their own goods.” Just because it offers a self-service option as a convenience, doesn’t make self-checkout users employees of the store. If it did, “retail stores would be required to obtain Social Security numbers, I-9 documentation, and tax information from these customers,” Albertsons argued. “Consumers would then have multiple employers,” and “would be required to disclose their private information… to each business they visited.”

The idea that self-checkout users are performing uncompensated work is not a new one. There are plenty of shoppers who remain philosophically opposed to the idea of self-checkouts, grumbling that they won’t do a cashier’s job unless they’re paid to do so. But that’s their choice. A number of attorneys who have weighed in on the issue online have come down on the side of retailers and not compensation-seeking customers. “If an employer offers a self-serve option, that’s a smart employer,” one attorney opined. “Doing so does not make the employer responsible for paying the customers who voluntarily choose to patronize the store and to use self-service instead of a cashier.” Merely by offering a self-checkout option, another attorney concluded bluntly that “the store owes you nothing, and any lawsuit premised on the idea that you’re working for the store will fail.”

Turns out he was right. So if Sadlowski and her would-be class-action lawsuit participants don’t want to do a cashier’s job, they’re welcome to visit a cashier instead of self-checkout. And if they want to get a discount at the self-checkout – they can always use coupons.

Image source: Albertsons

2 Comments

  1. Erich Orsan says:

    I went to my local Ralph’s, finished gathering a large order and went to the only line open. Person that works there first asked person in front of me to go to the self checkout and she said no. Then they asked me and I also said no because I have arthritis so bad. Both of us change to a yes with conditions like will you scan and then bag. They need to be careful because next time I need to make a decision it will be a private market with more cashiers.

  2. What’s not included is stores where the only registers open are at SCO. They should have used a different box store in a town with only one location that is almost fully SCO where they close the assisted registers providing no choice. js 🤷‍♀️

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