New York claims that Amazon site managers neglected internal corporate protocol, forcing pregnant women and disabled workers into taking unpaid leave.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the company has discriminated against pregnant and disabled workers at warehouses across the state.
According to Reuters, New York also accuses Amazon of having unfair labor policies, forcing its laborers to take unpaid leaves of absence even when they are still physically able to work.
In its complaint, the state Division of Human Rights said that Amazon’s internal policies are largely to blame for the alleged discrimination.
Amazon managers, says New York, gives individual worksite managers significant discretion to ignore the company’s own “accommodation consultants,” who help workers receive modified schedules and job responsibilities.
Accommodation consultants, among other things, facilitate safe working environments for employees who are pregnant or disabled.
The Division of Human Rights notes that New York state law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant and disabled workers.
The same set of laws also treat pregnancy-related conditions and illnesses as temporary disabilities.
“My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Hochul said in a statement.
However, Amazon representatives indicated surprise.
Company spokesperson Kelly Nantel, for instance, said that Hochul’s announcement was surprising. According to Nantel, Amazon has been regularly working and cooperating with New York’s regulatory bodies.
Nantel further said that the company feels it is “extremely important” to help employees feel safe and protected on the job—but that, with more 1.6 million employees nationwide, “we don’t always get it right.”
Amazon, notes Reuters, is the second-largest private employer in the country, with only Walmart Inc. having more workers.
Amazon has an estimated 39,000 workers in New York state alone.
In her statement announcing the lawsuit, Hochul said the state “seeks a decision requiring Amazon to cease its discriminatory conduct, adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices regarding the review of requests for reasonable accommodations, train its employees on the provisions of the Human Rights Law, and pay civil fines and penalties to the State of New York.”
WVTM13 notes that, in spite of its supposed pledges to its employees, Amazon has faced growing scrutiny over the way it treats its workers—some of whom have reported having to urinate inside bottles to avoid being punished for being “unproductive.”
Complaints against Amazon escalated during the coronavirus pandemic, with many warehouse employees and contractors reporting that they were being forced to labor in unsafe conditions.
Allegedly poor working conditions in Amazon warehouses, coupled with the company’s controversial coronavirus response, has led to unionization efforts across the country.