Friday, October 7, 2022

New York State Accuses Amazon of Discrimination Against Disabled, Pregnant

The New York State Division of Human Rights has filed a complaint against Amazon, alleging the company engages in discrimination against disabled and pregnant employees.

Amazon recently opened a warehouse in the Town of Newburgh, although it could not immediately be determined if this location was included in the complaint. Amazon operates 23 worksites with over 39,000 workers across New York State.

The announcement came yesterday by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, who accused Amazon of denying reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers and workers with disability. The Division of Human Rights also alleges that Amazon has policies which force this class of workers to take unpaid leave of absences rather than allowing them to work with a reasonable accommodation.

The New York State Human Rights Law requires that all employers, upon request, reasonably accommodate workers with disabilities or pregnancy-related conditions. This can include modification of job duties that allow an employee to perform the essential functions of their jobs.

Amazon employs in-house “Accommodation Consultants” to evaluate requests for special accommodations and recommend appropriate action. The State alleges that Amazon’s policy of allowing worksite managers to override the recommendations made by the Accommodations Consultant have caused Amazon employees to be denied reasonable accommodations for their disabilities and pregnancy-related conditions.  

The State further alleges that under Amazon’s accommodation policy, employees with disabilities are forced to take unpaid medical leave even in situations where the Accommodation Consultant has identified a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of their position without an undue burden.

Hochul said Amazon allegedly forcing employees to take an unpaid medical leave of absence diminishes the terms and conditions of employment for those with disabilities and is against the Human Rights Law. 

Among specific incidents listed in the State’s complaint are:

  • The State alleges that a pregnant worker requested and was approved to receive a reasonable accommodation to avoid lifting packages over 25 pounds. However, the worksite manager refused to follow the accommodation, forcing the worker to continue lifting heavy packages. Despite internal complaints about the lack of accommodation, Amazon allegedly took no action to ensure the needed change was carried out and the pregnant worker suffered an injury while lifting heavy packages. Subsequently, the worker required further accommodations as a result of the injury. Amazon allegedly denied the request and forced the pregnant worker into indefinite unpaid leave. 
  • The State alleges that another Amazon worker was improperly denied when they requested a modified work schedule due to a documented disability. The worker’s condition necessitated a specific sleep schedule and the worker submitted supporting medical documentation with the request. Prior to the request, the worker had been swapping shifts with a coworker to accommodate this condition without objections from management. Amazon’s Accommodations Consultant recommended that the worker be given the requested modified work schedule. However, the worksite manager refused to implement the accommodation without offering any explanation. The Accommodations Consultant did not challenge the manager’s refusal. Rather, the Accommodations Consultant is accused of reversing their recommendation and denying the request citing a lack of a qualifying condition, despite previously receiving medical documentation.
  • The State alleges that a worker who requested a reduction of work hours due to disability was denied an accommodation, despite initial approval by an Accommodations Consultant. The Amazon worksite manager allegedly refused to change the worker’s schedule even after several weeks of correspondence with the Accommodations Consultant. Eventually, Amazon allegedly determined that the request was not supported by sufficient medical documentation. Rather than continuing a dialogue with the worker to obtain appropriate medical documentation as New York State law requires, Amazon allegedly denied the request and closed the matter.  

The State’s complaint seeks a decision requiring Amazon to cease its alleged discriminatory conduct, adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices regarding the review of requests for reasonable accommodations, train its employees on the provisions of the Human Rights Law, and pay civil fines and penalties to the State of New York.   

For information on the Division of Human Rights’ process, visit www.dhr.ny.gov.  

Amazon has not yet issued a statement in response to the complaint.

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