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New York agency accuses Amazon of workforce discrimination

AFP logo AFP 5/18/2022 AFP
New York state accused Amazon of allowing worksite managers to override accommodations consultants when they urge flexibility for workers protected under human rights law © SEBASTIEN BOZON New York state accused Amazon of allowing worksite managers to override accommodations consultants when they urge flexibility for workers protected under human rights law

New York state accused Amazon Wednesday of discriminating against pregnant workers and staff with disabilities by refusing to make reasonable accommodations.

The state's Division of Human Rights faulted Amazon for allowing worksite managers to override accommodations consultants when they urged flexibility for workers protected under law. 

"My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve," said New York Governor Kathy Hochul in a statement that described Amazon as having 23 worksites in New York with more than 39,000 workers.

In one case, a pregnant worker asked not to be required to lift packages over 25 pounds. The worksite manager refused to make the accommodation, resulting in an injury that forced the employee into "indefinite unpaid leave," the agency said.

In another case, a worksite manager denied a request from a worker with a documented disability who presented medical documentation justifying the need for a specific sleep schedule. 

After initially recommending the accommodation, the consultant reversed position after the site manager refused to grant the change, the agency said.

"Since the 1970s -- years before the (federal) Americans with Disabilities Act -- New York State has prohibited discrimination against pregnant employees in the workplace," said Melissa Franco, deputy commissioner for enforcement at the agency. 

"The division will work to ensure that everyone in our state is fully afforded the rights and dignities that the law requires."

The agency is seeking an administrative order requiring Amazon to cease the current conduct, train managers on how to handle requests for reasonable accommodation and pay civil fines.

Amazon told AFP in a statement that it was "surprised" by Hochul's announcement, saying it had been cooperating with the investigation and "had no indication a complaint was coming."

The e-commerce giant said it had "numerous programs" in place to make sure that all its employees felt supported.

"While we don't always get it right with a workforce of over 1.6 million people, we work diligently to offer the best available options to accommodate individual situations," Amazon said in the statement.

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