Amazon workers were left ‘terrified and powerless’ after it concealed COVID cases, California says

US

Workers at Amazon’s warehouses in California were left “terrified” and “powerless” as the company concealed COVID-19 outbreaks from them, according to the state’s attorney general.

The company has been ordered to pay a $500,000 (£370,000) fine to the State of California for failing to adequately notify its staff and health agencies of case numbers.

Officials in California will monitor Amazon to ensure that it is complying with state laws that require it notifies workers about new COVID-19 cases.

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The online retail giant employs roughly 150,000 people in California, with the majority of them working at its “fulfilment centres” – sprawling warehouses where customers’ items are packed and shipped, according to the Associated Press.

But “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-19 case numbers”, the state’s attorney general Rob Bonta said.

“This left many workers understandably terrified and powerless to make informed decisions to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones.”

According to Mr Bonta, the judgment is the first resulting from California’s “right-to-know” law which obliges employers to inform employees of coronavirus cases at their workplaces.

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He added that compliance was especially important as Amazon prepares for an increase in orders around Christmas and the state is apprehensive about another potential surge in cases.

Responding to the case, an Amazon spokesperson said that the company was glad to have the matter resolved and that the attorney general “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 $15bn (£11bn) in costs to date – and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead,” they added.

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