Does Amazon care about your health?

By Samantha Rosenbaum / July 17th 2023

According to Labor Law Section 200, all worksites must provide reasonable and adequate protection for the lives, health, and safety of employees. Furthermore, Labor Law Section 191 specifies the frequency of employee payments, particularly for manual workers. Amazon has faced legal challenges related to workplace safety, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amazon’s New York warehouse workers initiated a lawsuit against the company, alleging public nuisance, breach of the duty to protect employee health, and delayed payment for COVID-19 sick leave. The legal theories presented were considered by some attorneys as a stretch, especially the application of public nuisance to contagious diseases. This decision was seen as a positive development for employers navigating complex regulatory frameworks during the pandemic.

However, some attorneys suggested that challenges under different state laws might still arise, and the decision could face reconsideration or appeal. In New York, where the Amazon fulfillment center operates, COVID-19 had a significant impact, infecting thousands and causing numerous deaths.

The plaintiffs argued that Amazon’s productivity requirements hindered basic hygiene practices, sanitization, and social distancing. The constant monitoring of time off tasks (TOT) during paid breaks, including bathroom breaks, created a fear of accumulating TOT, leading to rushed activities and inadequate social distancing. While Amazon suspended rate requirements in March 2020, plaintiffs claimed that communication issues persisted.

Additionally, concerns were raised about Amazon’s contact-tracing efforts, communication of COVID-19-related leave, and prompt payment for required leave. The plaintiffs sought clearer communication on COVID-19 symptoms and appropriate leave, the continuation of rate requirement suspension, exemption of hand-washing and bathroom breaks from TOT requirements, provision of tools for proper workstation cleaning, compliance with New York’s COVID-19 paid-leave law, and improved contact tracing.

The court acknowledged the importance of workplace safety but deferred to the expertise of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in handling public health and safety matters. The decision emphasized the need for flexibility and uniformity in OSHA determinations, while New York’s workers’ compensation law was deemed to preempt claims for past harm under NYLL Section 200.

Amazon emphasized its commitment to employee health and safety, citing over 150 COVID-19-related process changes. Workers’ groups expressed disappointment with the decision, considering it devastating for Amazon, and are contemplating whether to appeal. The balance between maintaining operations and ensuring protective measures remains a critical challenge, with OSHA seen as better equipped to address such issues.

If workers encounter difficulties expressing their concerns at Amazon, the legal team encourages them to seek assistance at through the Amazon Employment Law Division, which offers various levels of support.

Our Amazon Employment Law Division can assist you in three ways:

(1) Do It Yourself: Knowledge & Forms;

(2) Done With You: Knowledge, Forms and Attorney Help Editing the Documents; and

(3) Done For You: We meet with you and draft the documents for you. We may also, in some cases, offer to fully represent the client.


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