Amazon Fined $500,000 Over Covid Notification Mistakes

Amazon has been censored by officials in California over one aspect of its handling of Coronavirus infections within its own workforce.

Amazon agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and be monitored by California officials after the state’s attorney general said the company failed to “adequately notify” workers and health authorities about new Covid-19 cases, the Guardian reported.

The e-commerce giant employs about 150,000 people in California, most of them at 100 ‘fulfillment centers’ located in that US state.

Image credit: Amazon

California fine

The agreement, which must be approved by a judge, requires the e-commerce giant to notify its workers within a day of new coronavirus cases in their workplaces.

The Guardian reported that Amazon also agreed to notify local health agencies of new virus cases within 48 hours and will stop issuing notices that Rob Bonta, California’s attorney general, said do not adequately tell employees about Amazon’s safety and disinfection plan and workers’ rights related to the pandemic.

“As the company enjoyed booming and historic sales with its stock price doubling, Amazon failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of Covid case numbers, often leaving them unable to effectively track the spread of the virus,” Bonta was quoted as telling reporters in San Francisco at an event held across the street from an Amazon warehouse.

“This left many workers understandably terrified and powerless to make informed decisions to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones,” Bonta reportedly added, such as getting tested for the virus, staying home or quarantining if they’ve been notified of a potential workplace exposure.

Bonta said the judgement is the first of its kind in the US and complies with a state “right-to-know” law that took effect last year.

Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait said in a statement 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”.

Protection measures

There is no clear current indication of how many of Amazon’s workforce have been infected by Covid-19.

However in October 2020 the firm revealed nearly 20,000 staff had been infected by Covid-19.

The firm has been criticised for failing to protect staff during the pandemic, and in February Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging ‘disregard for health and safety requirements’ and retaliation against employees who raised alarms.

But Amazon has also undertaken measures to protect its staff, right from the start of the pandemic.

Amazon it should be remembered built its own Coronavirus testing labs to monitor the health of its staff back in April 2020, when the pandemic began ravaging around the world.

It also introduced many protection measures for staff during the pandemic, but recently it ended its on-site testing of US warehouse workers for Coronavirus, despite ongoing infections in the United States.

Amazon also endured some flak on social media when it revealed plans to install “wellness” booths displaying videos about relaxation into its warehouses as part of its response to criticism over staff working conditions.

In October Amazon was by sued warehouse workers in Colorado, over the length of their own time it takes to screen them for Covid-19, before they can clock-in.

It is alleged that workers at Amazon’s Colorado warehouses wait up to an hour to be screened for Coronavirus before being able to clock in.

Meanwhile as part of the Californian judgement, Amazon has to allow monitoring of its virus notifications by the attorney general’s office for a year and to pay the half-million-dollar settlement.

California’s ‘right-to-know’ law requires employers to notify staff of coronavirus cases at their worksites, tell the workers about pandemic-related protections, benefits, disinfection and safety plans and to report cases to local health agencies.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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