Amazon accused of discrimination against pregnant women, workers with disabilities

New York is coming after the tech giant for alleged human rights violations

Amazon accused of discrimination against pregnant women, workers with disabilities

The New York State Division of Human Rights has filed a complaint against Amazon, Inc., alleging the company engages in discrimination against pregnant workers and workers with disabilities by denying them reasonable accommodations.

The division also alleges that Amazon has policies that force pregnant workers and workers with disabilities to take an unpaid leave of absence rather than allowing them to work with reasonable accommodation.

"New York has the strongest worker protections in the nation and was one of the first to have protections for workers who are pregnant and those with disabilities. Working men and women are the backbone of New York and we will continue to take a stand against any injustice they face,” said Governor Kathy Hochul.

Read more: How to respond to a request for reasonable accommodation

Unvaccinated workers also experienced instances of discrimination in the workplace, according to a previous report.

Amazon operates 23 worksites with over 39,000 workers across New York State. The company employs in-house "accommodation consultants" to evaluate such requests and recommend appropriate action.

In its complaint, the division claims employees have been denied reasonable accommodations for their disabilities and pregnancy-related conditions all because of Amazon’s policy allowing worksite managers to override the recommendations made by the accommodations consultant.

The division also claims that workers 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 workers to perform their essential functions without an undue burden.

“The policy or practice of forcing employees to take an unpaid medical leave of absence diminishes the terms and conditions of employment for employees with disabilities and is against the Human Rights Law,” according to the government division.

In the complaint, the division also detailed how a pregnant worker requested and was approved to receive a reasonable accommodation to avoid lifting packages over 25 pounds. However, the worksite manager forced the worker to continue lifting heavy packages. This led to the worker sustaining an injury.

Because the worker was hurt, she required further accommodations. “Amazon denied the request and forced the pregnant worker into indefinite unpaid leave,” according to the division.

Another Amazon worker was improperly denied when they requested a modified work schedule due to a documented disability. And yet another worker who requested a reduction of work hours due to disability was denied accommodation, despite initial approval by an accommodations consultant, according to the lawsuit.

In filing the complaint, the division is hoping Amazon will “cease its 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”.

In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNBC the company works to offer “the best available options to accommodate” employees with disabilities and expectant mothers and offers several programs “to ensure that’s the case.”

In April, Walmart challenged a court conviction that charged the company for firing a long-time employee with Down syndrome from a Wisconsin store, a case that has lasted for more than five years.

Nearly half of working adults in the US, UK, France and Germany have either witnessed or experienced discrimination in the workplace based on their race, age, gender, or LGBTQ status, according to a study released in 2019.

It’s the responsibility of companies to know how to spot discrimination in the workplace and what to do to mitigate the situation. Previously, HRD wrote about the things employers should know about employee discrimination.

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