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New York State Sues Amazon for Inadequate Safety Precautions at Two Fulfillment Sites

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New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against Amazon, claiming that the retailer “repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures” to protect workers in two facilities from coronavirus. The suit also alleges that the ecommerce giant retaliated against two employees who called for better health protections.

The facilities in question are a Staten Island fulfillment center and a Queens distribution center. The employees are Chris Smalls, who was fired in March 2020, and Derrick Palmer, who received a final written warning in April 2020. Smalls reportedly led a walkout at the Staten Island facility, though Amazon alleges he was fired for refusing to remain quarantined at home after being in contact with a coworker who contracted COVID-19.

A total of 250 workers at the Staten Island fulfillment center have tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than 90 involved workers who had been present in the facility within seven days of notification to Amazon, according to the lawsuit. James alleged that the company “failed to close any portion of the [Staten Island] facility even after receiving documentation of the confirmed positive case.”

Additionally, the lawsuit blamed Amazon’s tracking of employee productivity as a cause for lax safety standards. Amazon officially paused productivity-related discipline in March 2020, but James alleged that the retailer did not communicate this fact “clearly and/or in writing” before July 10, 2020. As a result, “some employees understandably do not take all appropriate health precautions and instead, rush back from breaks, do not take sufficient time to wash and sanitize their hands and workstations, and do not consistently adhere to safe social distancing.”

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Amazon preemptively filed its own lawsuit against James on Feb. 12. The retail giant’s complaint states that it sent emails and other communications in July “reaffirming” the pause in productivity protocols, but that they had already been in place since March 18. It also revised the protocols in October, including revisions to account for proper safety procedures. Additionally, the company noted that it has built up a network that tests more than 700 employees every hour, further enhancing the safety of workers.

“Amazon’s efforts far exceed what is required under the law, and, as discussed below, go well beyond measures that the Office of the New York Attorney General has deemed comprehensive,” said the retailer in its countersuit.

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