Amazon Hit with Lawsuit Brought by Sickened Employees
One of the major litigation issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak is whether employers will be liable in civil lawsuits when employees contract coronavirus at work. The usual remedy for this is that the employee can file a workers' compensation claim. However, there are circumstances under which the employer can be found responsible in court. With this in mind, there have been numerous worker lawsuits that have been filed against large employers for not taking the precautions necessary to keep their workplaces safe from the pandemic for their workers. The most recent lawsuit was filed by three Amazon workers who claim that they contracted COVID-19 because the company failed to keep the warehouse safe. One of the employees claims that she then brought COVID-19 into her home, sickening her family members and one of her cousins who died from the virus.
Can the Workers Sue the Employer?
The lawsuit was filed against Amazon in New York court. The general rule is that an employee cannot sue their employer for an injury suffered on the job unless certain limited exceptions apply. One of the exceptions to this is that the employer displayed egregious behavior. This would be similar to gross negligence or reckless conduct.
This is what this lawsuit and all other lawsuits filed against employers have claimed. Each of these lawsuits describe some type of behavior that would be viewed as extreme indifference to the employee's safety. In many cases, these complaints allege fact patterns that the employer showed reckless indifference in the face of known risks. The key word here is "known." The fact that the employer had knowledge of COVID-19 and how it spreads but did not take suitable action to protect the employees forms the basis for these lawsuits.
This Warehouse has Been a COVID-19 Hotspot
The conditions at Amazon's warehouses have drawn plenty of media scrutiny. There have been reports that workers have been fired for speaking out about the dangers that they currently face while on the job. The particular facility at issue in the lawsuit is one where there was a worker fired for bringing the work conditions to the attention of the media. In all, 44 workers at this particular warehouse have tested positive for COVID-19, and one employee has died. There have been worker walkouts at this warehouse as the employees have been very vocal about the safety conditions that they face. This has allegedly drawn the ire of managers in the company who have been reported to have taken retaliatory actions against some of the more vocal employees. Company documents show that Amazon targeted an organizer at the warehouse.
Amazon has seen its business explode during the pandemic as customers have been unable to visit stores. As a result, the company has faced numerous stresses and pressures to keep the shipments going out to the customers. The company has added nearly 200,000 workers just to keep up with the extra demand.
The Company Is Alleged to Have Forced Workers to Show Up Sick
Here, one of the accusations in the lawsuit is that Amazon forced an employee to keep coming into work who the supervisors knew was infected with COVID-19. The complaint alleges that the infected employee was not encouraged or permitted to sanitize their workstation, causing the spread of the virus. The company is alleged to not have sufficient policies for when employees can call out sick for virus-related symptoms. The lawsuit is seeking to have the court compel Amazon to draft these policies.
Allegations such as the ones contained in the lawsuit are exactly the type of accusations that could be enough to clear the bar to take the case out of the workers' compensation system. Here, the plaintiffs allege that Amazon knew full well of the dangers that the employees faced but made a conscious decision to place profits and productivity over the health and safety of the employees. The lawsuit states that the speed and work conditions that Amazon sets to keep deliveries running on time inherently prevent things such as sanitizing and social distancing.
Amazon claims to be spending nearly $1 billion in costs to implement extra COVID-19 protections. Amazon says that it gives temperature checks to employees when they show up to work and has provided face masks and other personal protective equipment to its employees.
Nonetheless, 800 Amazon workers have tested positive for COVID-19. This is out of the nearly 800,000 people employed by the company.
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