Law360 (October 19, 2020, 8:42 PM EDT) -- Amazon hit back at claims that it's forcing workers to forgo hand-washing and other pandemic precautions by reinstating work quotas, telling a New York federal judge overseeing a workplace safety suit that it's engaged in the "unremarkable practice of setting goals for employee productivity."
The e-commerce giant responded Friday to a letter by workers at its Staten Island warehouse claiming it put them at risk by resuming productivity tracking it had paused earlier in the pandemic, saying the workers' missive is "factually flawed, procedurally improper, and without legal merit."
"Just like other companies, Amazon has continued to make appropriate changes within its business as the pandemic has progressed," the company said. "Amazon's revised productivity policy allows employees to practice social distancing, wash hands, and clean work stations as needed, while providing superior customer service and predictable delivery times."
Workers at the warehouse sued Amazon in the Eastern District of New York in June. They allege it hasn't followed safety guidelines and are seeking a court order making the company protect its workers. The complaint calls out the company's "cutting-edge" monitoring technology, which can track workers' unproductive time to the minute, the workers allege.
In a July 13 letter, warehouse safety manager Meghan Fitzgerald said the company "temporarily suspended our productivity feedback" in March and allowed workers more time to take breaks and maintain social distance. But the company "is now treating the pandemic ... as a thing of the past" after resuming tracking earlier this month, the workers said in their Oct. 13 letter.
Amazon disputed this charge Friday, saying its revised productivity policies account for the increased time workers need to keep themselves safe at work, including by allowing workers extra time to sanitize their work area, wash their hands and maintain distance. Only "extreme outlier employees" who fall short of minimum goals will get feedback on their performance, and they will have a chance "to explain whether pandemic-related safety precautions contributed to their performance issues," the company said.
The workers also said the company's pivot back to performance tracking bolsters their bid for a court order and urged the court to reject Amazon's pending dismissal motion, saying the revived policy "goes to the heart" of their allegations. But Amazon said the move does not bear on the motion because the company hasn't reinstated its pre-pandemic rules.
"[The workers] would have the court mandate its own health, safety and productivity policies and freeze them in time, without regard for the evolving circumstances of the pandemic and the business," the company said.
An attorney for the workers and an Amazon representative did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.
The workers are represented by Karla Gilbride and Stephanie Glaberson of Public Justice PC; Juno Turner, David Seligman and Valerie Collins of Towards Justice; Elizabeth Jordan and Frank Kearl of Make the Road New York; and Beth Terrell, Toby Marshall, Amanda Steiner, Blythe Chandler and Erika Nusser of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC.
Amazon.com Inc. and Amazon.com Services LLC are represented by Jason Schwartz , Avi Weitzman, Zainab Ahmad and Karl Nelson of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
The case is Palmer et al. v. Amazon.com Inc. et al., case number 20-cv-2468, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
--Additional reporting by Tim Ryan and Lauren Berg. Editing by Aaron Pelc.
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