Long plagued by controversy over workers’ rights, e-commerce giant Amazon is now facing fresh criticism for how it has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Although Amazon’s shipping warehouses have been classified as “essential businesses” and allowed to remain open through the pandemic, there are now reports that the company has failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safe working conditions for its frontline warehouse workers. Even more alarming is the recent news that Amazon fired three workers who spoke up about these failures.
The three employees had circulated an internal petition about Amazon’s warehouse labor practices before their termination. According to an article published in the Guardian, Amazon also censored invitations for a virtual event that would have allowed the warehouse workers to share their concerns with office personnel, deleting all invitations and documents related to the event – even after thousands of Amazon workers had responded.
Although the company has allegedly implemented temperature checks to monitor for signs of COVID-19 in the warehouses, many workers have anonymously shared that they do not have access to face masks, hand sanitizer, and other basic personal protective equipment (PPE). While OSHA does not currently require companies to provide all forms of PPE to workers, social distancing guidelines do require individuals to remain 6 feet apart at all times, and many states have issued guidance on wearing face masks in public.
Can Workers Hold Amazon Accountable for Wrongful Termination?
This is far from the first time that Amazon has allegedly silenced or reprimanded workers for publicizing warehouse conditions. In March, a warehouse worker named Chris Smalls was fired after taking several actions to hold Amazon accountable, such as contacting the New York State Health Department, the CDC, and other agencies to seek help with sanitizing the warehouses. However, these agencies were overloaded with other requests, and Smalls staged a walkout to protest the lack of PPE and the mandatory overtime requirements, as well as other violations. He was fired shortly after that.
Amazon also isn’t the only employer failing workers: Physicians, nurses, and medical specialists have also reported that they were fired or reprimanded for expressing concerns about COVID-19. At one Bellingham, Washington emergency room, a doctor was fired for posting about mask shortages in ER waiting rooms. In Chicago, a nurse who was fired for urging colleagues to wear more PPE was also fired – and she has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.
If you have been fired for any of the following reasons, by Amazon or another employer, you could be eligible to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit as well:
- Discussing unsafe working conditions in a general way on Facebook, Twitter, and news channels
- Reporting patient safety concerns through the appropriate channels
- Taking time off when sick with COVID-19 or to care for a family member
- Asking management for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and other protections
- Organizing other workers to negotiate for better working conditions
- Refusing to work without the right PPE and social distancing measures
While every case is different – and the laws on COVID-19 and social distancing are constantly changing from state-to-state – employees are still entitled to participate in protected activities, such as reporting wrongdoing or unsafe workplaces. When you’ve been fired as a result of these activities, you may have grounds to sue the company for retaliation and wrongful termination.
At Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, we’re committed to holding employers accountable when they do not prioritize public and worker safety. With over 100 years of experience and a dedicated employment law team, our attorneys can review your case and help you determine if you have grounds for a lawsuit, whether against Amazon or a healthcare provider.
Contact us at (866) 634-4525 today to schedule a free consultation!