More workers are speaking out against Amazon for its alleged failure to adequately protect employees from the coronavirus pandemic, and criticism of the retail giant continues to escalate as more associates are fired in what appear to be cases of workplace retaliation for speaking up against shortfalls.
On Friday, April 10, Amazon fired two user experience designers, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, after they made public statements critical of the company’s coronavirus response measures. The women, who have also pushed their employer to do more to combat climate change, pledged to match donations up to $500 to support colleagues at risk of becoming infected.
“No company should punish their employees for showing concern for one another, especially during a pandemic!” Ms. Costa said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Ms. Cunningham said that Amazon is in a position to be a powerful force for good in the crisis, but so far it hasn’t acted responsibly. She told Reuters that “we have to really listen to the workers who are on the front line, who don’t feel adequately protected.”
Bashir Mohamed, a warehouse worker in Minnesota, was also fired after he organized for better working conditions and called on Amazon to step up its cleaning and other measures to protect warehouse workers from contracting the virus.
The three terminations follow Amazon’s March 30 firing of Christian (Chris) Smalls, an assistant manager at JFK8, Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center in New York. Mr. Smalls said he was fired in retaliation for demanding a temporary shutdown of the warehouse so it could be sanitized after a colleague tested positive for COVID-19.
Mr. Smalls said he was fired after participating in a walkout of warehouse employees concerned that Amazon was failing to take action to stop the coronavirus from spreading throughout the facility.
“I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t take care of their people, and Amazon has dropped the ball on that,” Mr. Smalls told CNBC.
Bernie Sanders and other U.S. senators, all Democrats, have turned up pressure on Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos to explain the alleged wrongful terminations.
“Instead of firing employees who want justice, maybe Jeff Bezos – the richest man in the world – can focus on providing his workers with paid sick leave, a safe workplace, and a livable planet,” Sanders tweeted in response to the terminations.
Instead of firing employees who want justice, maybe Jeff Bezos—the richest man in the world—can focus on providing his workers with paid sick leave, a safe workplace, and a livable planet. https://t.co/EdabC2tW3U
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 14, 2020
Last week, news broke that Gerard Tuzara, a 35-year-old operations manager at Amazon’s Hawthorne facility near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), died March 31 of coronavirus complications. He was the first known Amazon employee to die from COVID-19, which has claimed more than 20,000 lives in the U.S. so far.
Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities.
Lawyers in our Fraud section handle complaints involving employment law, including retaliation. For more information or to discuss a possible claim, contact Larry Golston, Leon Hampton or Lauren Miles in this section.