Online shoppers throughout the world probably know of Amazon's reputation for selling books, electronics, toys and basically anything you can imagine. At the same time, the company itself has developed a reputation for being on the cutting edge of business. To many, they are a model company: They offer excellent benefits, such as stock options, to all of their full-time employees, including warehouse employees at their fulfillment center in Pennsylvania.
Despite their favorable reputation, recent reports have uncovered unnecessarily harsh and hostile working environments for warehouse staff. Amazon has been known to pressure workers to work through injuries or receive treatment that would prevent the injury from being reported to federal labor officials. This could preclude liability for workers' compensation coverage. Workers are pressured to maintain the highest level of efficiency at the expense of their overall health and safety.
Amazon's in-house medical staff members were asked to use methods to treat workers that would prevent them from going to doctors, making the injury reportable to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. At the same time, Amazon refused to admit some employee's injuries, such as stress fractures and hip issues, were indeed work-related. This was in an effort to maintain the impression that Amazon warehouses are among the safest in the country.
Meanwhile, many of the older warehouses are not outfitted with air conditioners, so temperatures climb over 100 degrees. Despite the heat, employees keep working and are brought beverages to prevent them from taking breaks and reducing efficiency.
Conditions in the warehouses were bad enough that one warehouse manager tried to speak up about the issues. One week later, his superiors responded with an ultimatum to resign or be fired for minor policy compliance issues. Simultaneously, many workers feel as though they cannot say anything about the work environment without being fired.
Thankfully, some former workers have been audacious enough to come forward to journalists and describe the inhospitable working conditions. Employers, Amazon included, usually have a responsibility to help employees cover the costs associated with being injured on the job. At the same time, they have the duty to create an environment that is not detrimental to employee welfare. The hope is that these reports will lead to further inquiry from labor officials and an effort on the part of Amazon to improve conditions for their employees.
Source: The Seattle Times, "Amazon warehouse jobs push workers to physical limit," Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher, April 3, 2012