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Amazon Facing Employment Lawsuits Following Bombshell Story on Brutal Workplace Culture?

amazon workersUnless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably heard about the bombshell report the New York Times ran last week on the brutal work conditions at Amazon.  The story detailed a cut-throat work culture (marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, emails continuing long after midnight on typical weekdays– sometimes followed up with text messages demanding explanation for why they went unanswered), along with all kinds of other unsavory employment practices, some of which are now getting attention from employment attorneys and workers right activists. Some representative quotes from the story include the following:

Bo Olson … lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” (Bo Olson, worked in books marketing)

“I would see people practically combust.” (Liz Pearce, worked on Amazon’s wedding registry)

“The joke in the office was that when it came to work/life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last.” (Jason Merkoski worked on projects including Kindle and the Fire TV device. Employed at Amazon 2006 to 2010, then again in 2014.)

“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” said Dina Vaccari, who joined in 2008 to sell Amazon gift cards to other companies and once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.” (Dina Vaccari, sold Amazon gift cards)

Moreover, the Times piece reported that not only is management unrelenting with workers: employees themselves are encouraged to rip into each other’s ideas in meetings and conferences. This follows the cult-like work philosophy promoted by founder and CEO Jeff Bezos (currently the fifth-wealthiest person on earth), who maintains that harmony in the workplace is not necessarily a thing to be desired — that it can discourage honest critique and generate unwarranted praise for mediocre ideas. Thus Amazonians are encouraged to “disagree and commit” (Amazon commandment No. 13), to tear apart the ideas and proposals of their colleagues.

Yet most disturbing are the stories of flagrant violations of workers basic rights involving family and sick leave. Here are a few more choice excerpts from the article:

“Motherhood can also be a liability. Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old parent of three who helped build Amazon’s restaurant supply business, said her boss, Shahrul Ladue, had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required. Mr. Ladue, who confirmed her account, said that Ms. Williamson had been directly competing with younger colleagues with fewer commitments, so he suggested she find a less demanding job at Amazon. (Both he and Ms. Williamson left the company.)”

“Molly Jay, an early member of the Kindle team, said she received high ratings for years. But when she began traveling to care for her father, who was suffering from cancer, and cut back working on nights and weekends, her status changed. She was blocked from transferring to a less pressure-filled job, she said, and her boss told her she was “a problem.” As her father was dying, she took unpaid leave to care for him and never returned to Amazon.”

“In Amazon warehouses, employees are monitored by sophisticated electronic systems to ensure they are packing enough boxes every hour. (Amazon came under fire in 2011 when workers in an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse toiled in more than 100-degree heat with ambulances waiting outside, taking away laborers as they fell. After an investigation by the local newspaper, the company installed air-conditioning.)”

“A woman who had thyroid cancer was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment. She says her manager explained that while she was out, her peers were accomplishing a great deal. Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. “I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,” she said her boss told her. “From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.””

“A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals. Their accounts echoed others from workers who had suffered health crises and felt they had also been judged harshly instead of being given time to recover.”

“A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon. “What kind of company do we want to be?” the executive recalled asking her bosses. The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. “I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,” the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored “to make sure my focus stayed on my job.””

In the wake of these reports, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU ) took out a full-page ad in The Seattle Times encouraging Amazon employees to contact them for possible employment law claims if they have been discriminated against or denied lawful accommodation for having children, suffering from an illness, or caring for sick family members.

Emery Reddy also represents employees with Workers’ Compensation claims and Employment Law claims involving harassment, wrongful termination, wage disputes and wage violations, the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have experienced illegal workplace practices, the team at Emery Reddy will provide dedicated representation, fighting aggressively to make sure you receive the maximum compensation for your case.

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