Amazon is facing multiple inquiries from labour regulators into whether it unlawfully retaliated against workers who spoke out about its coronavirus response

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesAmazon workers protest outside the company’s Staten Island in New York City.
  • The National Labour Relations Board is looking into multiple claims by Amazon workers that the company unlawfully retaliated against them for speaking out against its coronavirus response,BuzzFeed News reported Saturday.
  • The NLRB is required by law to follow up on such claims and said it has not yet opened a formal investigation, but could do so if it finds evidence of a possible violation of employees’ rights.
  • Amazon has come under fire from employees, activists, and lawmakers over safety measures in its warehouses as well as the company’s firing of workers who have spoken out on the topic.
  • Amazon has terminated five workers who participated in protests since the pandemic began.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The National Labour Relations Board is looking into whether Amazon unlawfully retaliated against workers for speaking out against the company’s coronavirus response, BuzzFeed News reported Saturday.

The NLRB’s inquiries come after employees in Chicago filed claims alleging Amazon targeted them for participating in protests about working conditions at its warehouses during the pandemic, according to BuzzFeed News.

Four complaints have been filed against Amazon since the beginning of the pandemic – one in Pennsylvania and three in the past week from the Chicago area – an NLRB spokesperson told Business Insider.

The board is required by law to follow up on all complaints, a process that could take 10 to 14 weeks, the spokesperson said, at which point it will decide whether there is enough evidence to warrant a formal investigation or dismiss the complaints.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on pending NLRB cases, and reiterated its statement last week regarding the worker terminations: “We support every employee’s right to criticise their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.”

Amazon has been facing increasing scrutiny in recent weeks from employees, labour activists, and lawmakers who say the company hasn’t done enough to protect workers from COVID-19 and that it has retaliated against those who call attention to the issue.

In at least four cases since the pandemic began, the company fired workers almost immediately after their involvement in organising protests. A fifth told The New York Times he was terminated after giving the company notice that he would be resigning because he objected to the company’s treatment of warehouse workers.

While no employees in Chicago have been fired, they claim Amazon is selectively enforcing its new policy prohibiting employees from violating social distancing guidelines, specifically reprimanding labour organisers, Buzzfeed reported.

“They’re just trying to pressure us and intimidate us so that we don’t try to do this type of activity again,” Samir Quasir, an Amazon employee in Chicago who filed a claim against the company, told Buzzfeed. “There’s a pattern here… I do feel targeted,” he said.

Amazon told employees at its warehouses earlier in April that they could be fired for violating social distancing rules at work. A spokesperson told Business Insider at the time: “We’ve had some instances of employees intentionally violating our clear guidelines on social distancing at our sites.”

Amazon’s warning came just days after it terminated Christian Smalls, an employee in New York who helped lead a strike to protest the company’s refusal to close a warehouse for cleaning after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon said it fired Smalls for violating its order for him to self quarantine for two weeks after coming into close contact with the infected coworker. However, lawmakers questioned the timing, noting that the quarantine order should have ended days before Smalls participated in the protest, while New York City’s human-rights commissioner opened an investigation into Smalls’ firing.

Last week, two workers fired by Amazon for publicly criticising its coronavirus response claimed the company attempted to shut down a virtual event they organised for workers to speak out about warehouse conditions by deleting employees’ calendar invites to the event.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told Business Insider it has implemented a variety of safety measures, such as additional cleaning, social distancing measures, and temperature checks. The company also announced earlier in April that it’s building its own lab to begin testing a small number of employees for the coronavirus.

However, workers have said those don’t go far enough, citing everything from conditions that make social distancing impossible to the company’s limited paid sick leave policies, and have organised strikes in New York, Chicago, and Italy in addition to a virtual event held last week where employees called for a “sick out” on April 24.

Amazon has been trying to balance the safety of its workers with increased demand for its services as coronavirus lockdowns worldwide fuel a surge in online shopping. The company said last week it will add 75,000 more jobs on top of the 100,000 roles it added last month, which it said are now filled.

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