The California Attorney General said Amazon is hiding COVID-19 case numbers from its employees, and ordered the company to pay $500,000 for better enforcement of state consumer protection laws, the first such action under a new “right to know.” “law intended to improve workplace safety amid the pandemic.
atty. General Rob Bonta ordered the company Monday to submit to monitoring and to adequately inform employees and local health authorities about COVID cases in the workplace.
The action against Amazon, part of a proposed ruling that must be approved by the court, was issued in response to a complaint accusing the company of failing to notify warehouse workers and local health authorities about COVID-19 case numbers during the pandemic.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Times report published in May 2020 details Amazon’s patchy notification system, which seemingly randomly issues alerts to the company’s warehouse and Whole Foods employees. Employees would receive reports that are out of order, weeks late, or not at all. A Whole Foods employee previously said that when he mentioned new warnings to his colleagues, “more than half the people you would ask would have no idea, and you just informed them now.”
The legal requirements for companies to notify their employees of coronavirus cases early in the pandemic were not clear. Companies were not required to disclose infections to employees unless they were identified as close contacts and subjected to quarantine, the province’s health authorities said.
Still, there was an opportunity for employees to potentially request more information: California law requires employees to keep a record of all injuries and illnesses in a workplace called a “Log 300” that should be available to employees upon request. Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which has struggled to enforce COVID protection, fined an Amazon warehouse in Rialto in May for $41,000 for failing to register 217 infections among their employees from April to October 2020 in that log, among other security violations.
Notification requirements were further clarified in September 2020, when Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 685, the “right to know” legislation drafted by Majority Leader of the Assembly, Eloise Gómez Reyes, allowing the state to report COVID-19 cases. in the workplace more accurately.
The law expanded the power of the state agency that regulates workplace health and safety to suspend operations in locations where “imminent danger” from COVID-19 poses a serious risk to workers. The law also requires all workers in the workplace during the contagious period of anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, to provide written warnings within one business day of receiving the notice. AB 685 came into effect in January and most of the established rules will expire on January 1, 2023.