Amazon was the first employer to be sued under Section 6409.6 of the California Labor Code for failing to meet the law’s specific and detailed notice requirements. The new amendments to the law require employers to notify employees quickly and to engage local public health authorities within 48 hours of learning about of an outbreak. The changes were enacted in response to widespread employee reports that they were not informed of COVID-19 exposures and had to work in conditions where their safety appeared to be an afterthought. The amendments will expire in 2023.
Terms of the stipulated judgment
Amazon agreed to the terms of a stipulated judgment, without admitting fault, in order to spare the company the cost and time involved in defending against the lawsuit. Under the terms of the judgment, Amazon will:
- Issue notifications to its tens of thousands of warehouse workers that identify, within one day, the exact number of new COVID-19 cases in their workplaces;
- End its practice of issuing notifications that inadequately inform workers of the company’s disinfection and safety plan and employees’ COVID-19-related rights;
- Notify local health agencies of COVID-19 cases within 48 hours so they can intervene in potential workplace outbreaks;
- Submit to monitoring by the Office of the Attorney General regarding its COVID-19 notifications; and
- Pay $500,000 towards enforcement of California’s consumer protection laws.
The Complaint alleged that the notifications issued at various Amazon facilities, including Amazon Fresh, Amazon Logistics and Ultra Fast and Fresh, failed to meet the requirements of California Labor Law because they:
- Were not issued within one day;
- Did not fully set forth information regarding: COVID-19-related benefits available under applicable federal, state, or local laws; options for exposed employees, including COVID-19-related leave, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, or supplemental sick leave; and antiretaliation and antidiscrimination protections;
- Did not fully set forth the disinfection and safety plan that Amazon planned to implement and complete; and
- Did not notify local health authorities of names, numbers, occupations, and worksites of employees for subsequent laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As a result, employees, the employers of subcontracted employees, and the public could not fully access information regarding COVID-19 cases, and could not act appropriately to protect the workers’ and the public’s health and safety.
Long history of workplace complaints against Amazon
According to Los Angeles Times reporting, Amazon has faced ongoing pressure from the attorney general’s office in recent years. In 2020, then-Attorney Genera; Xavier Becerra began an investigation into whether Amazon was doing enough to protect its workers from the risk of infection amid the pandemic. The OAG sued the company to comply with subpoenas requesting information including data on the number of COVID-19 infections and related deaths at 150 California Amazon facilities.
The $500,000 payment seems unlikely to be much of a financial deterrent to the corporate giant. But the amount dwarfs fines for COVID-19 safety violations previously issued by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. In 2020, the agency fined Amazon $1,870 for violations at a delivery center in Hawthorne and a fulfillment center in Eastvale The investigation was triggered by workers’ complaints about their working conditions.
In May 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported Amazon’s patchy case notification system at Whole Foods. The system issued alerts and notifications out of order, weeks late or not at all. The system reportedly left workers with no idea about possible exposure.
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Employees should be aware that they have a variety of resources available from local public health agencies. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, for example, employers must:
- Pay workers for time off if they are asked to stay home from work because they got COVID-19 or were exposed to COVID-19 while on the job.
- Employees may also be able to get paid time off from work to get a COVID-19 vaccine, to recover from vaccine-related symptoms, or if they need to care for a family member who has COVID-19 or needs to quarantine.
- Employers must offer testing free of charge and during work hours to any workers who might have been exposed to COVID-19 at work.
Workers may also talk with a union representatives or file a complaint with Cal/OSHA.