OHS Canada Magazine

New York sues Amazon over worker safety during pandemic


By Michelle Chapman

New York is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses in the state as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide.

The suit from New York Attorney General Letitia James landed just days after Amazon preemptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its employees who objected to working conditions.

In the suit filed late Tuesday, New York claims Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” and retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms.

James opened an investigation into Amazon in March following complaints about the lack of precautions taken to protect employees at New York facilities amid the pandemic. The investigation concentrated on two facilities — one in Staten Island and one in Queens — with a combined workforce of more than 5,000 individuals. At the time of the complaints, New York City was the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.

Advertisment

The investigation found evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing, and allowing employees to take precautions to protect themselves from the risk of infection.

The Seattle company has defended its safety practices during the pandemic, saying that it has hired experts for guidance. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.

The investigation by the attorney general in New York has grown, looking into whether Amazon unlawfully fired or disciplined employees who reported perceived safety concerns. It focused on two employees, one who was fired and one who received a written warning, after they raised concerns about Amazon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to managers, made public complaints about Amazon’s practices through the media, and submitted complaints to at least one government agency. Amazon has said the employee was fired for violating social-distancing guidelines.