Nov 16, 2021 - Technology

California orders Amazon to pay $500,000 over concealed COVID cases claim

Photo of a sign that shows the Amazon logo hanging from a building
Photo: David Ryder via Getty Images

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that the state has ordered Amazon to pay $500,000 for "concealing COVID-19 case numbers" from workers.

Why it matters: The court judgment is the first of its kind under California's new "right to know" law, which aims to bolster worker safety by requiring employers to disclose coronavirus cases to employees and local health agencies, among other provisions.

Details: Amazon "failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of COVID-19 case numbers, often leaving them in the dark and unable to effectively track the spread of the virus," Bonta's office said in a statement.

  • Amazon will modify its COVID notification systems, submit to regulatory monitoring and pay $500,000 toward further enforcement of the state's consumer protection laws.

What they're saying: "Californians have a right to know about potential exposures to the coronavirus to protect themselves, their families, and their communities," Bonta said in his statement.

  • "This judgment sends a clear message that businesses must comply with this important law. It helps protect us all."

The other side: An Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the firm was glad to have the matter resolved "and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings."

  • "This settlement is solely about a technicality specific to California state law surrounding the structure of bulk employee COVID-related notifications," the spokesperson added.
  • "There’s no change to, or allegations of any problems with, our protocols for notifying employees who might have been in close contact with an affected individual."
"We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers — incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date — and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead."
— Amazon spokesperson

The big picture: Amazon has faced complaints and criticism about worker safety throughout the pandemic.

  • Last year, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined Amazon $1,870 for violations related to working conditions at delivery and fulfillment centers, per the Los Angeles Times.
  • Xavier Becerra, who was then-attorney general of California, also launched an investigation into whether Amazon was doing enough to mitigate risks of infection among workers, the Washington Post reported last year.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Amazon in February, alleging noncompliance with workplace rules.
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