Senators accuse Amazon of mistreating pregnant workers

Amazon logo on building
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US senators have called for an investigation into Amazon's treatment of pregnant workers at its fulfillment centers.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and colleagues requested the investigation in a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The letter, addressed to EEOC chair Charlotte Burrows, expressed concerns that Amazon was not altering job conditions appropriately for pregnant women at its fulfillment centers. It also said that the company was allegedly not giving employees time off to handle their medical needs.

"In recent years, several reports have surfaced detailing the mistreatment of pregnant Amazon employees seeking to exercise their right to adequate modification of duties," the letter said, adding that the company's actions might violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Gillibrand co-signed the letter with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Amazon, which is turning increasingly to robotic automation, operates over 100 fulfillment centers across the US and monitors workers electronically. These are physically strenuous environments with long periods of standing and frequent heavy lifting, the letter warned. The law requires Amazon to offer pregnant workers equivalent working conditions to others who are limited in their working ability. The company frequently reassigns injured employees to light duties, according to the letter.

"Physically strenuous labor can not only pose increased risks of injury for pregnant individuals, but may increase the likelihood of miscarriage or preterm birth," the letter warned. "Such risks have been clearly acknowledged by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the context of physically demanding job duties."

At least seven lawsuits have accused Amazon of wrongfully terminating pregnant employees, the letter said, adding that the company refused requests for more bathroom breaks and less standing time.

"While Amazon settled several of these suits outside of court, a repeated pattern of publicly-reported pregnancy discrimination and pregnancy-related disability discrimination complaints has emerged at Amazon fulfillment centers as a product of the strenuous demands of the fulfillment center model," the letter alleged.

The letter accused Amazon of contacting one pregnant worker's doctor without authorization in an attempt to change her work restrictions. The company also allegedly punished the worker, Michelle Posey, forcing her onto unpaid leave. At one point, Posey, who suffered preterm labor, collapsed from dehydration on her shift.

The company also denied another worker, Patty Hernandez, lighter duties, according to the letter. Hernandez miscarried at seven weeks.

Amazon has drawn flak for employee treatment in the past. The company has been accused of unsafe pandemic working practices and forcing workers to sleep in tents.

Former CEO Jeff Bezos defended allegations of a punitive corporate culture in 2018, arguing: "We never claim that our approach is the right one just that it's ours and over the last two decades, we've collected a large group of like-minded people."

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.