Amazon will pay $500,000 to the state of California to settle claims that it hid COVID-19 cases from its warehouse workers. The company also agreed to reverse its misstep by improving its health safety measures and conforming to a state law that requires employees and local health agencies to be notified about workplace COVID-19 exposures within one business day.
Amazon employs about 150,000 people in California, the majority of them at fulfillment centers. It recently announced plans to add another 23,000 jobs in the state.
Earlier this year, Amazon came under fire for a lack of coronavirus-related protection for its employees. When the company disclosed that 13 of its facilities had been affected by at least one coronavirus case, it was hit with criticism by workers who said they had faced pressure to work longer hours during the crisis and hadn’t been offered protective gear or screening for possible coronavirus symptoms.
Sending a clear message
California Attorney General Rob Bonta called Amazon out for “harmful labor practices” in the state’s judgment against the retailer, saying the company failed to provide key information on workplace protections as part of California’s “right-to-know” law. Bonta charged the retailer of not allowing workers to effectively monitor the spread of the virus.
“As our nation continues to battle the pandemic, it is absolutely critical that businesses do their part to protect workers now — and especially during this holiday season,” commented Bonta. “Bottom line: Californians have a right to know about potential exposures to the coronavirus to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. … This judgment sends a clear message that businesses must comply with this important law. It helps protect us all.”
The agreement still has to get court approval, but Bonta said Amazon will notify local health agencies within 48 hours of new COVID-19 cases if all goes according to plan.
In a statement, Barbara Agrait, a spokesperson for Amazon, said that the company was “glad to have this resolved and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings.”