Amazon cuts a relatively tiny check to disappear claims it broke the law by withholding COVID-19 data from staff

Settlement is little more than a minor cost-of-business expense


Amazon will cough up $500,000 to settle a case brought by California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta for concealing from health agencies and its own staff the number of COVID-19 cases among its workers.

Bonta filed a complaint on behalf of the US West Coast state, claiming the e-commerce giant had broken California’s Assembly Bill 685. The 2020 law, passed with the support of Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes, requires employers to report COVID-19 case numbers within 48 hours to public health agencies and to make that data available to its employees with a day.

Amazon failed to disclose this vital COVID-19 data during the pandemic, according to the AG's complaint [PDF]. Although the biz issued warnings that workers faced potential exposure to the coronavirus in its facilities, it failed to share case numbers nor any information about sick leave as required by California’s labor laws, Bonta said.

The online souk and cloud behemoth agreed to hand over $500,000, which is to be used by Cali for the "enforcement of consumer protection laws," and basically make the whole affair disappear.

The settlement is subject to court approval [PDF]. In addition Amazon must accurately monitor and disclose COVID-19 infection data to its workers, especially as the biz gears up for an incoming surge of online orders and deliveries during the holiday season.

“As our nation continues to battle the pandemic, it is absolutely critical that businesses do their part to protect workers now — and especially during this holiday season,” Bonta said in a statement on Monday.

“That’s why California law requires employers to notify workers of potential workplace exposures and to report outbreaks to local health agencies. Today’s first-of-its-kind judgment will help ensure Amazon meets that requirement for its tens of thousands of warehouse workers across California.

“Bottom line: Californians have a right to know about potential exposures to the coronavirus to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. I'm grateful to Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes for her leadership in spearheading AB 685 to stand up for California's essential workers during these unprecedented times. This judgment sends a clear message that businesses must comply with this important law. It helps protect us all.”

The “right-to-know” law was effective starting from January 1, 2021, and is expected to last until January 1, 2023. Some 150,000 employees work across Amazon’s fulfillment centers in California.

The Register has asked Amazon for comment. ®

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