Amazon to pay $500,000 to settle California's claim it hid COVID cases from workers

The money will go toward improving enforcement of the state's consumer protection laws.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read
Getty Images

Amazon has agreed to a settlement with California to resolve claims that the internet retailer concealed the number of COVID-19 cases from its workers and local health agencies, the state's attorney general said Monday. Amazon was accused of violating the state's "right to know" law, which is designed to improve workplace safety.

Under the terms of the settlement, Amazon must notify its warehouse workers in the state of the exact number of new COVID cases in their workplaces within one day and notify local health agencies of new cases within 48 hours, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said.

Amazon must also submit to monitoring by Bonta's office and pay $500,000 to improve enforcement of state consumer protection laws.

"As our nation continues to battle the pandemic, it is absolutely critical that businesses do their part to protect workers now -- and especially during this holiday season," Bonta said in the statement. "Californians have a right to know about potential exposures to the coronavirus to protect themselves, their families and their communities."

Amazon said it's worked hard to keep employees safe during the pandemic.

"We're glad to have this resolved and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings," Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait said in an email, adding that the company has spent more than $15 billion keeping employees safe.

Amazon has long faced scrutiny over its treatment of warehouse and delivery workers during the pandemic. In October 2020, the company revealed that nearly 20,000 of its front-line workers had tested positive or were presumed positive for coronavirus between March 1 and Sept. 19, months after state attorneys general and activist employees called for the release of this information.

The release of the information was a reversal for Amazon, which for months avoided providing a detailed state-by-state accounting of coronavirus infections. Without this information available, some employees worked together to compile estimates on the number of infections, using message alerts from the company.

In September, Amazon settled a labor dispute with two former employees it fired in April 2020 after the pair spoke out publicly against warehouse conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.