Amazon’s labour practices “may violate several provisions” of official health and safety laws according to New York’s attorney general Lititia James.
The online giant has come under further criticism from authorities over its safety practices during the pandemic, while it prepares to announce record earnings later this week.
Following weeks of staff protests, numerous controversial sackings and a call from New York mayor Bill De Blasio to launch a human rights investigation, the company has been plunged into further hot water after a preliminary investigation.
In a letter to the retailer penned by James this week, Amazon’s safety measures were dubbed “so inadequate” that they may violate the Occupational Safety and Health Act, while its sacking of outspoken employees reportedly “raised serious concern”.
Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty told Charged: “Our top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees. We made over 150 process updates—from enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures to new efforts like disinfectant spraying.
“We distributed personal protective gear, such as masks for our employees, and implemented disinfectant spraying and temperature checks across our operations worldwide. We encourage anyone interested in the facts to compare our overall pay and benefits, as well as our speed in managing this crisis, to other retailers and major employers across the country.”
Chris Smalls was the first high profile discharge Amazon made during the crisis, after publicly criticising its practices and calling for a staff walk out.
Amazon said he was dismissed because he came into work to lead the protest, despite being told to stay at home for two weeks with pay after coming into close contact with an employee known to have contracted the virus.
James said the dismissal raised concerns “that Amazon may have discharged (Smalls) in order to silence his complaints and send a threatening message to other employees that they should also keep quiet about any health and safety concerns.”
Regarding Small’s dismissal, Lighty added : “We did not terminate Mr. Smalls’ employment for organizing a 15-person protest. We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment.
“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines. He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk.”
This comes ahead of the release of Amazon’s financial figures on Thursday which are expected to lay bare both skyrocketing expenses due to rapidly increased staff levels and near record earnings thanks to high demand
Amazon’s 15 per cent wage raise, launched “in recognition of (employees’) incredible contribution” is expected to have cost the an extra $700 million, amounting to and extra $1.5 billion per quarter.
Furthermore, the sharp rise in unemployment is expected to have impacted Amazon Prime subscriptions, a key driver of Amazon’s profits.
However, according to Wall Street Estimates, Amazon is expected to post revenues 25 per cent higher than the same quarter last year.