One of Amazon‘s employee in Minnesota had called out the company for retaliating against her and in fact looking to take legal action against the company. According to the employee who works in the Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota facility said in a letter to Attorney General that she was written up on July 10th for spending too much time away from her work station or logging too many “time off tasks.”
The Amazon’s system works by actively monitoring workers and when a worker takes a break from scanning packages for too long, the system auto logs it as a TOT which then generates warning which can potentially lead to the worker being fired from the company.
Her account appears to contradict Amazon’s filing in a separate court case, where the company says it “ceased providing productivity rate feedback to associates and imposing any discipline related to low productivity rates” in March, and extended the policy indefinitely in April.
The Amazon’s employee Mohamed Hibaq is asking the Attorney General Ellison for protection under an executive order he signed in May which ultimately order employers not to discriminate or retaliate agsinst employees who raise concerns about unsafe working conditions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ellison declined to comment on Mohamed’s letter.
As for Mohamed, she had been a very outspoken critic of the e-commerce giant’s labor practices and had in fact continued to pressure the company to respond to workers’ safety during the pandemic. She was among those that reported the company to not have provided the employees with adequate protective gears at the facility despite the height of the pandemic in the country.
“I worked at Amazon for nearly four years with a very clean record and just one or two warnings I know of in that entire time,” Mohamed wrote in the letter. “Amazon managers have targeted me and openly harassed me before, but increasingly during the pandemic.”
An Amazon spokesperson disputed that the company was retaliating against Mohamed.
“While we have not seen the formal complaint, the allegations described are not true. We do not tolerate any kind of discrimination in the workplace and we support every employee’s right to criticize their employer, but that doesn’t come with blanket immunity to ignore internal policies.”
And Amazon had stated that it’s employees can spend additional time out of their breaks in order to do things such as using the restroom or wash their hands, get water break or do something else. The company also added that it understood perfectly well that employees might need to take a break in order to sanitize their workstations.
Amazon claimed to have stopped TOT since March
The case of Mohamed contradicts those of Amazon as the company claimed to have stopped the practice way back due to the pandemic. The company also got a lawsuit from about three Staten Island workers stating they were working in a “place of danger” as the company had put a halt to it’s effort to curb the coronavirus spread but focus more on productivity instead.
The workers said Amazon “discourages workers from performing basic hygiene, like washing or sanitizing their hands, when doing so would require them to step away, even for a moment, from their bustling workstations.”
Amazon on the other hand responded by saying it no longer penalize warehouse workers who take extra time to wash their hands and said it would be counted against them under the TOT policy if they do not.
The company said the updated policy went into effect in March, although workers who filed the lawsuit said they were only informed of the policy this week, citing a notification from Amazon.
“In response to Covid-19, beginning on March 18, 2020, Amazon ceased providing productivity rate feedback to associates and imposing any discipline related to low productivity rates,” Alexsis Stephens, Amazon’s director of human resources for fulfillment centers, said in a declaration submitted by Amazon. “On April 29, this policy was extended indefinitely.”
Despite this, Mohamed claims Amazon wrote her up for violating TOT policy in early July. When her manager asked her to specify the reason for her TOT, Mohamed initially refused. In her letter to Attorney General Ellison, she said she spent blocks of time during her workday “waiting for a [work] station, making a trip to the bathroom while social distancing, or sanitizing my area.”
Mohamed said in an interview that the TOT policy discourages workers from taking necessary safety precautions because they remain fearful that they’ll be disciplined.
“If a worker is wearing a mask and a string comes off, you can’t go and get another because you’re putting yourself at risk of violating TOT policy,” Mohamed said. “It seems like they’re handing warnings and write-ups out left and right and no matter what situation you choose, you’re always at risk.”
Meanwhile the company didn’t offer any explanation to this but stated the policies had been changed way back since March. Mohamed’s lawsuit also includes the fact that the company is inconsistent with the enforcement of it’s policies.
For example, Amazon submitted to the court talking points given to managers instructing them how to inform employees of the new TOT policy, with the caveat that they were for “verbal use only.”
“Amazon says these policies have been in place since March, but they will only be effective at empowering workers to take care of their health while working if workers actually know about them,” Kearl said.