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Court Stops Amazon Employees COVID-19 Case

Amazon employees working at a Staten Island, New York fulfillment center sued the online retailer for failing to provide a safe COVID-19 workplace. The lead plaintiff, Derrick Palmer, worked as a “Picking Master,” requiring that he pick customer orders and repeatedly touch items also touched by other workers. He interacted closely with co-workers. His life partner joined the suit because she faced an increased risk of complications from the virus. The remaining employees similarly interacted closely with fellow employees and exposed their family members to COVID-19. Several of these employees did get sick with COVID-19.

CDC recommendations for employers include taking steps to reduce transmission, developing flexible leave policies, and reducing face-to-face contact among employees. New York law imposes additional safety guidelines. In a federal district court, the employees argued that “Amazon’s productivity requirements prevent[ed] employees from engaging in basic hygiene, sanitization, and social distancing[,] causing employees to skip handwashing, skip sanitizing workplaces, and operate in a way that prevented social distancing in the facility.” The employees also accuse the company of maintaining inadequate contact tracing.

The district court dismissed the employees’ claims for public nuisance and breach of duty to provide a safe workplace because those claims must be determined by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the court, OSHA maintained the expertise necessary to balance Amazon’s level of operation needs with the employee’s protective measures needs to determine whether Amazon’s employment practices created an unsafe working environment.