As Amazon grows and strives to ship online purchases faster and faster, its workplace injuries are also rising at a startling rate.
Amazon is a powerhouse.
Wherever you are in the U.S., you have likely purchased items from Amazon, seen its delivery trucks, know people who work in its warehouses and distribution centers, or are aware of its tremendous corporate scale and presence. Over the past 15 years, Amazon has surpassed Walmart, Target and Costco in sales and warehouse capacity, becoming the nation’s largest e-commerce retailer.
Amazon employed more than 1.3 million people in 2021, and its income was more than $33 billion. Those 1.3 million employees include about one-third of all warehouse workers in the U.S., and while the company prides itself on its speed and sales growth, the business success comes at a cost—injuries and unsafe working conditions.
Ben Gerber discusses compensation for Amazon warehouse workers.
Health and safety concerns in the workplace are not new for any large company, but it’s no secret that Amazon is now fighting back against substantial allegations of poor workplace conditions for its employees and contractors.
The human cost of poor working conditions
Many of us have come to rely on Amazon to deliver the items we need—fast and cheaply. Millions of American households are ordering everyday goods ranging from shampoo and toilet paper to clothes and electronics. And we expect our purchases to arrive on our doorstep almost immediately.
But for the hundreds of thousands of workers who are tasked with processing orders in the warehouse, packing your goods, shipping them and making deliveries, the speed and pressure can lead to dangerous conditions.
They risk their physical and mental health every day so that we can have our goods on time, and injuries happen daily.
Amazon warehouse injury statistics
Let’s take a look at how widespread the problem of worker injuries is within Amazon warehouses:
There were 5.9 serious injuries for every 100 Amazon warehouse workers in 2020.
This rate was 80 percent higher than all other employers in the warehousing industry that year.
Amazon’s overall warehouse injury rate in 2020 was 6.5 per 100 full-time employees (FTEs), which is more than twice as many as Walmart, which is 3 per 100 FTEs.
The average recovery time for Amazon workers injured in 2020 was 46.3 days, or about a month and a half.
This is a week longer than the average recovery time for workers in the general warehouse industry and 2 weeks longer than the average worker suffering a lost-time injury.
Amazon’s severe injury rate was 2.6 per 100 FTEs, which is more than 2.5 times that of Walmart, which is 1 per 100 FTEs.
Source: Strategic Organizing Center (SOC); Primed for Pain, Amazon’s Epidemic of Workplace Injuries
There was some respite from the hazardous conditions in 2020 when the numbers decreased slightly from previous years. That’s because Amazon stopped disciplinary action against underperforming workers (based on productivity metrics) in order to accommodate for pressures associated with the early days of the pandemic.
Injury rates at robotic facilities
Amazon’s Army of Robots
A robotic warehouse isn’t some sci-fi concept that exists only in movies. In fact, many warehouses are powered by automated systems like cartonization software and bagging machines to get products out the door quickly. These robots rely on computers, onboard sensors and maps to identify and sort packages. The robots move freely through the warehouses by using software that creates routes based on the operational need.
However, warehouse robotics don’t eliminate the need for human labor. In fact, the rate of injuries is higher in the Amazon facilities that use robots. Interestingly, there wasn’t 1 single factory or type of factory that was having trouble with injuries—injury reports were evident in every Amazon warehouse.
Amazon warehouse workers suffer serious injuries at higher rates than other firms
Serious Injuries Uncovered: The Washington Post reporters Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara investigated reported injuries in Amazon warehouses. Both reporters won the Sidney Award for exposing the high rates of serious injuries uncovered in their analysis of data from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
It’s also interesting to note that Amazon delivery workers could be under the most pressure to perform high-speed and high-efficiency operations; we see this because worker injuries increase the closer the packages get to their destinations. Delivery driver injuries increased during COVID-19, while injuries among warehouse workers decreased during that time.
Causes of Amazon worker injuries
We know from the reports that Amazon employees are being injured at work. But the key to preventing injuries is to understand how and why they happen.
Lack of communication
Although Amazon warehouse workers are in close proximity to one another, they don’t always communicate effectively. Each individual has their own orders to pull in the warehouse, and there are quotas for how many they need to fill in a shift. They work fast and hard—almost maniacally—to meet their quotas.
As a result, there’s little time for communication. This means they aren’t talking about how to handle tasks efficiently or correctly. Each person figures it out and marches to the beat of their own drummer, so to speak.
You’re treated like a robot and a clog day in and day out. If you’re a little bit slow on your task, you might get fired by a freaking app.
Krystal Ball, host of Breaking Points podcast, commented on the treatment of Amazon warehouse workers on The Joe Rogan podcast #1668.
There are many reasons for the high employee turnover in the warehousing industry, like burnout, corporate policies and time pressure. These factors also contribute to employees’ feelings of isolation, training inadequacies, and injuries from inexperience.
This seems counterintuitive, right? Higher pay resulting in more injuries?
Amazon is known to pay competitive wages for warehouse work. For that reason, jobs at Amazon are coveted, and employees work hard and fast because they don’t want to risk losing their income. They know it would be difficult to find another job that pays as well. They push themselves to make quotas and avoid discipline, and that pressure and motivation can result in injuries.
The other issue associated with competitive wages is that many injuries go unreported because employees fear losing their jobs. An injured person doesn’t want their manager to know that the injury could affect how well they do their job, or they don’t want to take time off, so they power through as best they can, even while injured.
Proving an injury
One of the differences between workers’ compensation claims and personal injury lawsuits is that a lawsuit would require you to prove that the defendant was negligent and their negligence caused your injury. Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance, which means you only need to prove that the injury happened while you were at work.
But sometimes, that’s not so easy to do in an Amazon warehouse. Many Amazon workers work alone, so there’s no coworker to witness an accident as it happens. Workers also might have difficulty locating a supervisor or manager to report an injury at the time it happens. Amazon warehouses have cameras, but they don’t capture every angle and every incident.
Let’s take a look at the differences between workers’ compensation and personal injuries to see what type of benefits you are entitled to.
Georgia protections for injured workers
Georgia offers few protections for the job security of injured workers. In fact, it’s legal to terminate an employee for being hurt on the job.
As an injured Georgia employee, you can receive workers’ compensation benefits to pay for your medical treatment and a portion of your lost wages, but you’re not guaranteed re-employment once you’ve recovered.
So, what does this mean in real-life situations?
It means that some employees will continue to work while injured, which leads to their not meeting quotas because they’re in pain or unable to move as quickly. Then, the employee is terminated because they didn’t meet the quotas. The employee could then file a workers’ compensation claim (still within the required time period), but Amazon can respond that the injury was reported after the employee was fired for cause. That makes it harder to receive their Georgia workers’ compensation benefits.
The result is that this person is now injured and without benefits to pay for treatment, and they also have no job and no income.
Real-life story (and how Gerber & Holder helped our client with a win vs. Amazon)
Gerber & Holder recently litigated a case for a client who was an Amazon worker who twisted her knee while sorting items. The video camera in the warehouse was partially obstructed, and there was no clear view of our client being hurt.
She came to us because Amazon denied that the injury had happened; the company said her injury was idiopathic, or not work-related, and could have happened anywhere. Our team presented our client’s claim to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, which found that her job activities did, in fact, cause her injury, and she was entitled to medical treatment and indemnity benefits.
Amazon’s “strategy” was to continue to drag its heels on this process, which resulted in the litigation taking 15 months before it resulted in our client’s favor.
We have handled many cases involving Amazon throughout the years. Often, these injuries are caused when supervisors and managers place unrealistic demands and quotas on the worker. This pressure results in a spike in injuries caused by repetitive stress and unsafe working conditions.Attorney Ben Gerber
Amazon’s tactics to thwart workers’ compensation claims
Nearly every employer is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance for its employees. However, the more claims are made on the policy, the more costly coverage becomes. That’s why an employer will do whatever it can to reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims. Some companies do this in a smart and healthy way by mitigating risks and genuinely working toward keeping employees safe in the workplace—and this benefits both the employer and the employees. Others employ various tactics to reduce the incidences of claims in ways that don’t benefit workers.
Tactic #1: On-site nurses
Amazon provides on-site nurses for injured workers. These nurses are deployed throughout the warehouses. Often, these Amazon nurses will attempt to minimize the injury or encourage the worker to say that they were injured at home or elsewhere outside of work.
Workers’ compensation rules do not require an employee to be seen by a company nurse prior to filing a claim, but the employee might not know that. It’s also possible Amazon could require the employee to be examined by the in-house nurse, but it would not have an effect on their workers’ compensation claim unless the nurse notes that the injury did not happen at work.
Before Amazon became the behemoth it is today, the only other instance where there was widespread use of workplace nurses was in the poultry industry.
Chicken plants are notorious for treating workers poorly. The nurses would follow the same model as the Amazon nurses, which was to thwart employees’ efforts to make claims for workers’ compensation benefits.
Tactic #2: Industrial clinics
Sometimes, Amazon nurses try to influence where an employee will go to seek treatment. Georgia workers’ compensation laws allow a worker to select treatment from a panel doctor of their choice, and they are not required to visit an industrial clinic before seeking the care of an orthopedist.
Most industrial clinics are not equipped to handle severe injuries, and sometimes this leads to misdiagnoses and incorrect treatment that could result in additional injury.
An industrial clinic might also be focused on administering a drug test prior to treating an injury. One reason for this is that they could be looking for a pre-existing condition that might prevent the injured worker from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Tactic #3: Alterations to work capacity
Amazon follows an aggressive policy of returning people to work in a lighter-duty capacity and then terminating their employment. Georgia law permits a company to provide light-duty work to an injured person. The company must abide by the authorized treating physician’s restrictions when offering this work.
If the worker earns as much during the light-duty time as before their injury, the company might not owe any indemnity benefits. However, if the employee is terminated for any reason other than for being injured, they are not entitled to immediate indemnity benefits. In that instance, the worker can only receive this benefit if they have performed a job search and are unable to obtain a job because of their injury—and this is very hard to prove. This leaves the injured person with no job, no income and an injury that could require medical treatment costs.
Reports indicate that Amazon has acknowledged the problem of injuries within its warehouse workforce, and it has committed to reducing workplace injury numbers by 50 percent by 2025.
Gerber & Holder advocates for employees’ rights
The team at Gerber & Holder has more than 75 years of combined experience in helping injured workers in Georgia get the compensation they deserve after a workplace injury, including injuries sustained at Amazon warehouses and other large retailers.
We’ve seen firsthand how an unexpected accident can leave workers and their families strapped for cash as they struggle to pay medical bills and deal with a lost source of income. Our firm has recovered millions of dollars for clients who’ve been injured on the job, and we’d love to have the opportunity to help you and your family, too. Contact us today to learn about your legal rights after an injury so you can experience some peace of mind during the long road to recovery.