Amazon Hit With Lawsuit Over COVID Safety Investigation in California

Amazon faces legal action over claims it has not been cooperating with the state of California's inquiry into the company's workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state's DoJ is seeking details on Amazon's efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, including its sick leave policies and cleaning procedures, as well as data on COVID-19 infections and deaths at the tech giant's facilities in the state.

In a news release issued on Monday, the department said Amazon had "failed to adequately respond" to its requests for information on its health and safety measures.

"If Amazon can next-day deliver an 85-inch TV, it should be able to deliver to the Department of Justice the straightforward information we officially requested of them nearly four months ago," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told reporters at an online news conference on Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The legal action follows months of "informal communication" between the state and Amazon on the issues, the DoJ said. The department issued subpoenas on August 19 to request details about the company's coronavirus prevention efforts.

Specifically, the petition seeks information on issues, including:

  • Retaliation taken against employees who raise workplace safety concerns
  • Complaints made by Amazon associates to the company about working conditions
  • Communications with state and local departments of public health regarding COVID-19 exposures at Amazon facilities
  • Documents related to any lawsuits or investigations of the company by other agencies or private individuals

In response to the move, Amazon said it was "a leader in providing COVID-19 safety measures for our employees," having spent billions of dollars on safety kit and testing.

"We're puzzled by the Attorney General's sudden rush to court because we've been working cooperatively for months and their claims of noncompliance with their demands don't line up with the facts," it said.

There have been several reports of worker disputes at Amazon throughout the pandemic, during which time the company's profits have soared.

State officials fined the company about $1,500 in October over coronavirus safety violations at two warehouses in California, following complaints from staff, The LA Times reported at the time.

Investigators found facilities at sites in Eastvale and Hawthorne failed to mitigate the exposure of employees to the virus by not providing effective safety training.

At protests near to the company's Seattle headquarters in November, workers again claimed the company had not done enough to protect them from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Amazon shares have nearly doubled their value since the pandemic took hold in March—and the company's CEO, Jeff Bezos, has gained nearly $67 billion this year. In October, the company reported its year-on-year had tripled from $2.1 billion to $6.3 billion during the third quarter of 2020.

Protests against Amazon workplace practices in California
Workers protest against the failure of their employers to provide adequate protections in the workplace at the Amazon delivery hub on National May Day Walkout/Sickout by workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Innstacart and Shipt amid the Covid-19 pandemic on May 1, 2020, in Hawthorne, California. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty

"Amazon has made billions during this pandemic relying on the labor of essential workers. Their workers get the job done while putting themselves at risk," Attorney General Becerra—reportedly President-elect Joseph Biden's pick for HHS secretary—said in a statement.

"It's critical to know if these workers are receiving the protections on the job that they are entitled to under the law. Time is of the essence. Amazon has delayed responding adequately to our investigative requests long enough. We're seeking a court order to compel Amazon to comply fully with our investigative subpoenas."

Nearly 20,000 Amazon employees tested positive for COVID between March 1 and September 19, according to a blog post from the company in October.

The company's numbers indicated that around 1.44 percent of employees have contracted the virus, while the 7,277,352 cases confirmed in the U.S. at that time represented about 2.2 percent of the country's overall population.