Amazon is facing a controversy over whether it fired three warehouse workers who had previously complained about the safety of working conditions. Amazon denies the allegations. If the allegations are true, it could be considered retaliation which according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), occurs when an employee is punished for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination, including harassment. It could be considered retaliation if an employer acts because an employee threatens to make, or actually makes, a report to authorities (in the context of these allegations). It is important to understand retaliation as it is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector.
The fired employees are complaining of discrimination in the face of being fired. Amazon defends its decision by asserting they were fired for internal policy violations including harassing a co-worker and not adhering to social distancing rules. An Amazon spokeswoman said, "We respect the right of employees to protest and recognize their legal rights to do so. However, these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions." One of the fired employees was working with other employees to plan a walkout in protest against unsafe work conditions during a pandemic. Another fired employee actually staged a walkout in the Staten Island facility on March 30. The response of some Amazon warehouse workers has been to stand behind the fired employees. A leaked internal communication from Amazon's senior vice president and general counsel communicating about the Staten Island organizer described him as "...not smart or articulate" which is seen as an attempt to smear the fired employee who was leading union organizing efforts.
Amazon is the nation's second largest employer and has been the target of unionization efforts for many years. Amazon executives have reiterated that the company treats its employees fairly and takes any worker reports of workplace concerns seriously.
With over half a million workers, and growing, workplace safety is a key risk area and ethical concern for Amazon.