By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -A New York state agency has accused Amazon.com Inc in a complaint of discriminating against pregnant and disabled workers at its worksites, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Wednesday.
Amazon was also accused of having policies requiring workers to take unpaid leaves of absence, even if they are capable of working, instead of providing reasonable accommodations.
The New York State Division of Human Rights faulted Amazon for giving worksite managers the power to ignore the company’s in-house “accommodation consultants” who recommended that workers receive modified schedules or job responsibilities.
State law requires employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant and disabled workers who ask. It also treats pregnancy-related medical conditions as disabilities.
“My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Hochul said in a statement.
Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said Hochul’s announcement was surprising because the Seattle-based company had been cooperating and working closely with the New York regulator.
She also said Amazon considers it “extremely important” that all employees feel safe and supported, and works diligently to provide accommodations, while acknowledging that with more than 1.6 million employees “we don’t always get it right.”
Amazon is the largest U.S. private employer other than Walmart Inc. It operates 23 worksites with more than 39,000 workers in New York.
The company has faced growing criticism over its treatment of workers, including some whom have pushed for unionization.
Last September, six Democratic senators including New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand called on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate Amazon’s alleged “systemic” failure to accommodate pregnant warehouse workers.
Wednesday’s complaint described how Amazon allegedly forced one pregnant worker to continue lifting packages over 25 pounds (11 kg), and put her on indefinite unpaid leave after she was injured.
It also said Amazon reversed recommendations to let two disabled workers modify their work schedules, after their managers resisted the changes.
Complaints filed by the Division of Human Rights are confidential.
The Amazon complaint seeks unspecified civil fines and penalties, improved training, and new policies for reviewing of requests for reasonable accommodations.
Violations can result in penalties of up to $50,000, or $100,000 for willful conduct.
Amazon’s profit was $33.4 billion in 2021.
The company has also been the target of litigation by state Attorney General Letitia James.
On May 10, a state appeals court dismissed her lawsuit accusing Amazon of failing to protect workers at two New York City facilities against COVID-19, and illegally retaliating against two employees who protested the conditions.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Chizu Nomiyama, Nick Zieminski and Marguerita Choy)