Amazon has been ordered to pay a sum of $500,000 (£370,000) for hiding the number of Covid-19 cases from employees at its California warehouses, leaving them “terrified and powerless.”
The ecommerce giant allegedly failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of Covid-19 case numbers, “leaving them in the dark” and unable to track the spread of the virus.
The landmark US judgment also saw the company agree to being monitored by California officials to ensure that it is complying with state laws, which require it to notify workers of any new Covid-19 cases in the workplace within one day.
Amazon has agreed to pay the fine and will notify local health agencies of new cases within 48 hours.
The company currently employs around 150,000 people in California, according to the Associated Press, with the majority working at fulfilment centres, the large warehouses where orders and packed and shipped.
The judgement is the first to have been made following the introduction of California’s “right-to-know” law, which obliges employers to inform employees of coronavirus cases at their workplaces.
Amazon has been criticised for its treatment of workers throughout the pandemic, with warehouse workers in New York staging walkouts earlier this year.
“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,” California attorney general Rob Bonta stated.
“This left many workers understandably terrified and powerless to make informed decisions to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones.”
Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait said that the company was “glad to have this resolved and to see 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,” she 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.”
Amazon is currently making strides with its ‘just walk out’ supermarkets, with the company planning to roll out a further 200 Fresh stores within the next two years and ex-Amazon executive Brittain Ladd describing the stores as the grocery sector’s “Pearl Harbour moment,” making “every other grocery store obsolete.”