Amazon’s in-house clinics encourage injured employees to continue working.

Amazon's in-house clinics encourage injured employees to continue working.

Amazon’s Inadequate Treatment of Injured Workers

Amazon Workers

Working at an Amazon warehouse can be a grueling experience, with employees expected to meet strict productivity targets while maneuvering heavy boxes and operating complex machinery. However, what happens when these workers get injured on the job? Recent investigations have shed light on a troubling practice within Amazon’s logistics operation – a system designed to manage injured employees that can put them at risk and delay or discourage them from seeking proper medical care.

One such case is that of Jennifer Crane, an outbound packer at an Amazon warehouse in Missouri. Crane injured her wrist while lifting a case of sparkling water and sought help at Amazon’s on-site first aid clinic, known as AmCare or the Wellness Center. Despite experiencing severe pain and being unable to grip a steering wheel, Crane was told that she could return to work. Eventually, after seven weeks, an MRI revealed that she had torn a ligament in her wrist.

Crane’s experience is not isolated. Investigations and interviews have uncovered a pattern of injured employees being encouraged to continue working instead of seeking appropriate medical care. Amazon’s motivation behind this practice appears to be two-fold – keeping workers on the job reduces the company’s workers’ compensation costs and also allows them to avoid reporting serious injuries to the federal government.

AmCare staff, typically emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who are not qualified to diagnose or treat injuries, provide first aid and refer employees to internal injury specialists, such as athletic trainers. They do not operate under a physician’s supervision and are not required to maintain their licenses. This limited treatment can put employees at risk of developing long-term health issues.

Multiple OMRs, who have worked at different Amazon facilities, have reported direct pressure from managers to keep the number of workers referred to doctors low. Some OMRs have even heard that managers talked injured workers out of visiting a doctor. The pressure to minimize referrals is likely driven by a desire to maintain the company’s injury record, especially given that Amazon has faced warnings and citations from OSHA in the past for medical mismanagement.

Amazon argues that it does not intentionally delay or discourage employees from seeking medical care, and that AmCare staff can refer workers to outside treatment at any time. However, interviews with clinic staff and recent OSHA citations suggest otherwise. Management behavior, as described by OMRs, violates company policy and puts workers at risk by providing prolonged, medically unsupervised treatment.

Criticism of Amazon’s handling of workplace injuries has been growing, with investigations and legal actions from regulators, law enforcement, and politicians. OSHA currently has multiple investigations ongoing at different Amazon warehouses, and the US Department of Justice is examining whether the company deliberately underreported injuries. These probes could force Amazon to make significant changes to its processes and face public scrutiny.

One way in which Amazon manages injured employees is by reassigning them to alternative work, often referred to as “light duty.” The company uses software to match employees with jobs that fit their physical limitations. However, the program has faced criticism for underestimating the rigor of certain jobs, potentially exacerbating injuries. Some employees are assigned tasks that appear to contribute little to Amazon’s operation, such as dusting or annotating images for machine learning algorithms.

While Amazon touts its “robust return-to-work program,” the reality is that many employees continue to experience long-lasting pain and face difficulties returning to their regular jobs. The company’s emphasis on maintaining productivity targets means that injured workers are expected to meet these goals, even if they are still in pain or have restrictions. With few alternatives, some employees are caught in an injury loop, unable to fully recover because they continue performing tasks that caused their injury in the first place.

As the criticism against Amazon’s treatment of injured workers grows, the company must address these concerns and prioritize employee safety. The current system, which puts workers at risk and delays or discourages proper medical care, is not acceptable. Amazon should ensure that its on-site clinics are staffed by qualified medical professionals who can provide appropriate treatment and referrals. Additionally, the company should implement a transparent and fair return-to-work program that considers the well-being and recovery of injured employees. Only then can Amazon truly live up to its commitment to safety and ensure the well-being of its workforce.

Ongoing investigations will hopefully prompt Amazon to take action, making meaningful changes to protect its workers and address the glaring flaws in its approach to workplace injuries.