Judge dismisses workers’ lawsuit against Amazon over workplace policy amid COVID-19

Amazon Prime shipping
Credits: Amazon (screenshot from Prime Day Delivers 2017 video)

A federal judge rejected a lawsuit filed by warehouse workers in New York, alleging that Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) created a working condition that put them and their families at risk of getting infected by COVID-19.

In the lawsuit, Amazon New York warehouse workers alleged that the e-commerce giant created a “public nuisance” by worsening the risk of spreading COVID-19. They claimed that Amazon maintained a “culture of workplace fear” by ordering workers to “work at dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their workspaces.”

In court filings, Amazon denied wrongdoing and called the lawsuit an effort to “exploit the pandemic.”

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On Sunday, Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court Eastern District of New York ruled that the Amazon warehouse workers should have filed their complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to Bloomberg.

The OSHA is better positioned to address the complaints by Amazon workers

Judge Cogan explained that the OSHA, an agency under the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), is the proper venue for the worker to file their complaints against Amazon.

He said OSHA has the authority and better positioned “to strike a balance between maintaining some level of operations in conjunction with some level of protective measures.” The judge explained that courts lack expertise when it comes to issues related to expertise on workplace safety and public health. He also noted that judges nationwide could face a risk of reaching conflicting decisions regarding the matter.

“Court-imposed workplace policies could subject the industry to vastly different, costly regulatory schemes in a time of economic crisis,” stated Judge Cogan in his ruling.

The OSHA is responsible for implementing federal rules and regulations that ensure companies maintain safe and healthful working conditions for their workers. The agency is encouraging workers to file complaints if they believe their working conditions are unsafe and unhealthful.

The lawyers representing Amazon warehouse workers in New York said they are considering an appeal of the district judge’s ruling.

In a statement, they said Judge Cogan’s deference to OSHA “should be very concerning to anyone who cares about the health of American workers, given that OSHA has been virtually AWOL throughout this crisis,” they said in a statement.


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