As if Amazon’s track record for worker rights and safety wasn’t already bad enough. Recently, they denied a California warehouse employee accommodations for her pregnancy. She then miscarried while she was at work. This has re-sparked the push for better working conditions for Amazon employees. (1)
Amazon Worker Is Denied Accommodation For Pregnancy Then Miscarried
Nearing the end of Summer 2020, 23-year-old Amazon warehouse employee Patty Hernandez became pregnant. Her doctors told her to protect the pregnancy, she should not do any lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying more than 20 pounds, and no walking or standing for more than 50 percent of her shift. They wrote her a note which she took to her manager at the OAK4 packing facility in Tracy, California. She begged HR and her manager to accommodate her doctor’s orders but to no avail.
Last October, while she was on shift, she suddenly felt the need to use the bathroom. She quickly shuffled over to the bathroom, only to find blood in her pants. She had miscarried her baby.
Amazon Wouldn’t Budge
Hernandez worked as a packer at the facility. This means her job is to lift merchandise-filled bins off of conveyor belts that weigh up to 50 pounds for the duration of her 10-hour shift. HR and her manager denied her request verbally, not written down. They told Hernandez that there was no specific light work for her that wouldn’t involve heavy lifting or being on her feet many hours at a time.
According to the CDC, lifting heavy objects, standing for long periods of time, and repeatedly bending at the waist can increase a woman’s chance of miscarriage. (2) Hernandez says afterward her manager was on her case constantly. They questioned why she was sitting, why she was moving slower, and why she was taking more bathroom breaks despite knowing that she was pregnant.
“Time Off Task”
One of the ways Amazon measures employee productivity is through something called time off task. It tracks how often an employee scans packages at their workstation to measure productivity and also disciplines those who are less productive. (3) Hernandez says they are only allotted 10 minutes of time off task per 10-hour shift. Meanwhile, just walking across the warehouse floor to the bathroom and back takes six minutes.
Even when she miscarried and notified her manager of the medical emergency, they still denied her request for the Family and Medical Leave Act. They claimed she hadn’t worked enough hours. Hernandez continued to bleed heavily over the next week and was unable to go to work. The company never responded to her multiple requests for California Pregnancy Disability and a medical leave of absence. She ran out of personal time off and had to resign. A nurse confirmed her miscarriage a week later.
She Is Not The Only One
Between 2011 and 2019, at least seven women filed pregnancy discrimination lawsuits against the company. The company refused to accommodate their pregnancy needs and then fired them for taking more frequent bathroom breaks and sitting more. Amazon workers across the country are being forced to choose between risking miscarriage, eviction, and homelessness.
“While this does not prove causality, it is reasonable to offer ways to decrease stress for individuals who are pregnant rather than create more stress in their lives in order to provide the best possibility for a healthy pregnancy,” said Dr. Jennifer Karlin of the University of California Davis Medical Center of Hernandez’s case. “This worker was put between a rock and a hard place. Either you don’t get paid, so you can’t feed yourself and your family, or you come to work and put your pregnancy at risk.”
Pregnant Workers Aren’t The Only One’s Suffering
During the coronavirus pandemic, when Amazon went on a never-before-seen hiring spree, working conditions were brought to light. Already poor working conditions for these employees got even worse with the pressure of keeping up with online orders during the pandemic. While Jeff Bezos and other Amazon executives made millions, the employees suffered tremendously. (4, 5)
Workers across the country complain of few, timed bathroom breaks, nearly impossible productivity goals, and an unsafe working environment. If employees can’t keep up, they are fired – no matter what their reasons. So far, any efforts to form a union to better protect their rights have been systematically shut down. Employees feel threatened and unable to advocate for their rights without fear of being fired. (6)
Employees have also sued the company for mistreatment related to racism and sexism, always by white, male managers and higher-ups. For everyone, the company is a grueling place to work. (7) Employees are doing their best to raise awareness, and the more stories like Hernandez’s are shared, the more pressure will be put on Amazon to better its practices.
- “Amazon Denied a Worker Pregnancy Accommodations. Then She Miscarried.” Vice. Lauren Kaori Gurley. July 7, 2021.
- “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).” CDC
- “Amazon adjusts its ‘Time Off Task’ metric and drug testing policy.” Engadget. R. Lawler. June 2, 2021.
- “Amazon Prime Day Offers Great Sales—Here’s What Workers Suffer Through To Make This Happen.” Forbes. Jack Kelly. June 17, 2021.
- “Gauging Supply Chain Risk In Volatile Times.” SP Global
- “Insiders reveal what it’s really like working at Amazon when it comes to hiring, firing, performance reviews, and more.” Business Insider. June 29, 2021.
- ‘Investigating Amazon, the Employer.” NY Times. Maria Cramer. June 4, 2021.