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Can Amazon.com Face Workers' Compensation Lawsuits?

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Allentown, PAJust about everyone is familiar with Amazon.com, the world's biggest bookstore, and anyone who has read the news lately, including the LAS blog is also familiar with mistreated workers at its warehouse. "If the article [published in The Morning Call] is even half correct factually I think that Amazon is so wrong personally," says attorney Randall Brett, at The Law Office of Randall P. Brett, focusing on employment-related matters. "Legally, that is another matter…"

According to gawker.com, by shifting management of the warehouse to Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS), the temporary employment firm that hires workers for Amazon, "limits its liability for Workers' Compensation and unemployment insurance." Does Amazon believe it can be shielded from Workers' Compensation lawsuits—and other employment claims—by ISS?

"I would argue that Amazon can be held liable, but it likely thinks ISS would be held responsible and claims would be made against ISS," says Brett, adding two caveats to his statement: "I've had no contact with Amazon or its employees or its suppliers and I don't specialize in Workers' Comp cases. Even if I did, the rules change state-to-state, but for the most part, laws that govern Workers' Comp stay the same, from Pennsylvania to California…

"Although some states might have some pertinent rules that can affect an employee, most specific to this Amazon issue, and germane to any employment discussion regarding ISS and Amazon is this: It appears from recent press that the company is looking to offload its employment-related responsibility to ISS. It isn't unusual to use a third-party firm as an employment agency. However, here in New Jersey where I practice, such a case would probably create a co-employment situation where, under certain circumstances and based on some facts in the matter, Amazon might not be able to get away with offloading."

Brett said some states are more liberal than others. California is more employee-centric than any other state, as is New Jersey and Pennsylvania, home of Amazon, a pro-labor and pro-employee state. But nationwide, co-employment may subject Amazon to some workers' protection issues that it is trying to offload to ISS. "Amazon may think that ISS will screen them from Workers' Comp claims, but that may not be the case," says Brett.

Regardless whether an employee is temporary (as are Amazon's warehouse employees) or permanent, whether you work one hour or one day, you are still protected under the Workers' Compensation laws. "I'm not sure what PA has so far as mandated benefits, but there is a formula here in NJ in calculating what an employee is owed in case of injury," explains Brett, "so Amazon employees would be entitled to medical expense, and if they suffered long-term health issues, they may be eligible for long-term benefits or a cash settlement.

"For example, in NJ if you lose a hand, you are entitled to a certain amount of dollars, hence 'giving you an arm and a leg,' which term literally comes from insurance settlements. In the case of Amazon's home turf, in general terms their system will provide for some kind of compensation beyond medical expenses, but the burden is on the employee to show they have a long-term med condition exacerbated by the working condition."

Brett argues that Amazon would be on the hook, given the close ties with ISS as conveyed in The Morning Call’s article. "I would say that Amazon controls the working conditions, the environment and the discipline, in other words they determine who gets fired and who gets hired," he says. "Based on what the author presented in the Morning Call article, I think a strong case could be made that there is a co-employment situation, so Amazon is as responsible for coverage, as is ISS.

Amazon, like a number of third-party employers, use companies such as ISS for a number of services such as payroll, and companies do so for a number of reasons. Amazon is paying contributions toward Workers' Comp premiums that are charged to ISS, but at this point, who knows how the deal is structured?

"These third-party agreements can be structured in a number of ways," says Brett. "For example, Amazon may be looking for ISS to pay the first dollar on claims and ISS may have an insurance policy, which is probably the way it is set up. Amazon could have agreed to absorb the first amount of claims, say $100,000 in the first year and the rest is offloaded to ISS. These deals are structured as a basic cost to the employer—the employer wants to have a fixed cost. So ISS bears the responsibility of hiring, record-keeping and statutory benefits like Workers' Comp and Unemployment Comp."

How does Amazon benefit from keeping most of its employees temporary rather than permanent?

"If I am correct, Amazon believes it can limit its costly benefits to 'permanent' employees and deny such benefits to temporary workers provided by ISS. Amazon would also be protected from having to honor employee claims for such federally mandated benefits as leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. For example, an employee who is hired by Amazon.com directly after working a year for ISS would not be eligible for leave under FMLA until having worked for another year for Amazon. In other words, no credit would be given for the time worked for ISS in essentially the same job and for the same company.

"So under the theory that ISS is simply a fig leaf and Amazon should be considered the employer, that could open up a whole host of problems for Amazon," Brett reiterates, adding that the "Workers' Comp issue may be just the tip of the iceberg for Amazon."

It will be interesting to see where the claims—if any—will fall: Amazon or ISS?

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READER COMMENTS

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I’m still working at Amazon.com warehouse in San Diego. This company really treats their employees as a crap. Even warehouse fire alarm rang about 2 mins, company managers didn’t try to evacuate workers out from the building. They still made employees keep working inside the warehouse. So many workers had to endure the super loud noice from alarm sirens. Really ridiculous.

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I work at amazon in new jersey. I was denied workman's comp without even a visit to the doctor by Sedgwick Amazons 3rd part mediator. I have retained a lawyer to fight for workman's comp benefits. Amazon wants me to deal with the leave team and is worried about protecting m time and having me apply for short term disability I don't want short term disability I want my workman's comp and the treatment I am entitled. Nobody should buy anything from Amazon ever because of the way they treat employees

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Anyway, this is my story fresh and new. I wanted to agree with [another poster] about him saying, he had a good experience with his injury dealings with Amazon but, I did not have the same experience as you had. I have been working in Phoenix 6 since 2014 and never had issues with any of my body parts. I have snapped my back from lifting a non marked heavy totes and went to Amcare to keep icing it. Luckily, It healed on its own and I didn't have to deal with them because of that. There more incidents that I had, and I must say, when it is minor, they would try take care of you in Amcare until somoene died in the warehouse last year, they have been really tight ( AMcare) to the point where you have to call the manager and report incident just to get a biofreeze or band aid. Many people don't report their injuries. Even the Chronic ones. Last February of this year, I was in AFE Packing and most days will be the number one packer. My station is longer and has more walls or bay ( and Bins), Station has boxes that is harder to reach due to the size and the mat only covers the station and not the area where you walk to the sidewalls to get the items to pack, Lifting upto 50 LBS, squatting, bending, tiptoeing, over reaching, and looking through small monitors where you can barely see due to goos. holding scanners all day, building boxes and sending it down the conveyor. It is literally more than an athletes activity for 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, no to mention the mandatory overtime. I felt pain for the first time in February when i sat down for break and stood up after 10 minutes, I was limping. I never had it before, so, I did not know what it was. It went away the next day but, came back around quarter of the shift. It went on like that for a month until finally, the pain did not go away that I had to go home because I couldn't bear it. It went away but, then it came back even after an hour of packing. I finally reported it to AMCARE, was icing it for a week and a half 3 times a day but, it did not go away. So, they sent me to Concentra and they had me wait for almost 2 hours before I was seen by the doctor. he took an xray of my feet and found out I have heel spurs on both feet. Not too big but, he said, He is not able to determine whether it is work related or not. I told him what I do in Amazon and I know it's either he was convinced or afraid to lose clients from Amazon if he says it is work related. He scheduled me for PT and gave 50 percent restriction on walking and standing, so, Amazon accommodated me for about a week and then after PT and my second appointment with the doctor, I requested for a podiatrist which he suggested earlier on and he referred me to Dr. Tallis of the same company but, different branch. I waited an hour and he barely talked to me. He just exclaimed, I guess they sent you to get custom orthotics. He looked at my paper and asked what happened. I said, it is Chronic holding pattern. He asked what it meant and I said repetitive motion for a long period of time. He then, said, " Oh, so it is not like you hurt yourself at work like smashing your feet or something dropped on your foot. I said no. It was accumulative. He then have me removed one of my shoes and pressed on the side of my heel and when I said ouch, he said, " ypu have plantar fascitis".Little did I know that while he was working on my restriction, He put it as not work related. He was so in a hurry to shove me out the door, I had questions and changes that is needed to be done with the paper work but, I was only able to talk to the medical assistant. He talked to me for about 10 minutes. He said, we'll contact your insurance and I know they will usually approve the orthotics. It was the first time, I had to use my insurance and go through this process that when I came back to work at Amazon, the comp manager called me to say that he wants to help me but, he can't do anything since it is not work related, they cannot accommodate me. I went to see the other compensation worker and he told me the same thing and to go to HR. I went to HR and they told me I will be excused for the day and to come back once restriction is taken away because they cannot accommodate me. later that same day, He called me to say he opened up an LOA for me to protect me. I was discombobulated at the moment but, they said, I will be paid after a week, 60 percent of what they are paying me through Short term disability and if it doesn't get any better, they will be long term. I couldn't soak it in and is clueless for what is happening so, I asked for second opinion after finding out from the insurance I can use them to go to another podiatrist. So, I went to one of the top ten podiatrist in Arizona, He was helpful at first but, then told me, he cannot prove or say that it was work related but, can put that work has definitely aggravated my preexisting condition. I tried to explain my job and duties and he kind of listened but, went back to, let's just treat you, it will be better. But, to treat it, either I get cortison shots, surgery or cut the muscles it self along with stretches and inserts and the slipper he recommended. I agreed with him but, the problem was, I cannot afford the treatment. Insurance doesn't cover the orthotics and inserts which is essential to healing and maintaining pain free feet. I tried to rest for almost a month and went back yesterday to get cortison shot since I have heard from some people, they had one and the pain never came back. nobody mentioned about the process being as painful as giving birth only for a shorter period of time. I was screaming in the clinic with my two kids watching me endure the pain. I thought I was done delivering babies. The doctor was in a hurry today and he had a lot of assistants to do certain jobs for him which is awkward. I don't really enjoy telling my tale of pain to a whole lot of people especially when I want treatment. I was about to get insert which he prescribed but, I don't have the cash since I didn't work for almost a month. They said, my HRA ( deductible) will treat it as an over the counter. I am in pain right now to the point where I cannot sleep so, I decided to write this when I found this website. He said anesthetics should kick in after about 15 minutes but, it was only for a few hours. I also try to buy a new shoes to try on which I researched thoroughly before getting it. It was KURU shoes that has a technology that helped a lot of people. It has a lot of good reviews all over the internet and youtube. He did not let me finish with the technology I was trying to say, He just said, it is a very nice shoes but, he took out the insert and compared it with the one he has. I told him it is the technology you are paying for it and everytime, he did not let me finish. I told him about the barber friend who went through all i went through and the moment she put on the shoes, she was pain free and used it till the end of they day everyday, bought another pair. I was willing to take the risk because of the good reviews. I am confident this will make me feel better. Same thing with the slipper he recommended. I bought one and didn't really feel comfortable with it, so, I bought my old school Birkenstock and felt better. that is what I have been using for a month now. Amazon adjuster sent me three letters of denial and the last one I received last Friday was telling me that I have 90 days to dispute it. My reservation and sentiment is that, How is something that happened at work, accumulated at work and aggravated at work, not work related. If they cannot prove that it is work related, then they cannot prove it is not work related either. I can prove it is work related because according to studies, even though they origin of this injury is unknown, it is common to people who are obese athletic and very active. I am not obese, I am not athletic, I hate walking except when I am working. I already walk 10 miles a day, I don't want to walk more than that. I have never had this issue before. Only when I started working as a packer since it is a combination of activities. I do hope to be given justice to this unfortunate case. Goodluck to all of us who is fighting for this work related injuries

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Update from post on July 25, 2015: Since Amazon sent me home on a non-work related injury and advised me to follow up with my pcp, I am still unable to work. After a month of treatment from my Kaiser physician he instructed me to contact Amazon and demand to be seen by their doctors. My pcp along with many other specialist within the Kaiser facility agree that Amazon is the worst place of employment in which they do not care for their employees health. He wanted me to go to the media with my story. I did as he suggested and contacted Amazon and requested I be seen by their workers comp doctor which caused an uproar. I went to see their workers comp doctor on Aug 3, 2015 and after a short evaluation the doctor agreed with my private pcp diagnosis of sciatica and tendonitis although she says it is not work related because my body was not conditioned for the position! Furthermore, she released me to return back to work that day without any modifications! Following the appointment I went back to Amazon to turn in my documents at which time I asked what I was suppose to do from this point. With my injuries there was NO way I would be able to perform my regular duties. I was instructed to follow up with their leave of absence team. By California law, when an employee reports a work injury a claim is filed immediately and medical attention is provided. I followed up with the leave of absence team and they are a joke! Because of their lack of knowledge and follow through I ended up losing my position with Amazon at the end of Aug 2015. From this point on I have continued following up with my pcp at Kaiser and after finally getting an MRI the spine specialist says I will need surgery due to have two bulged discs and the nerve damage that this injury has caused in my legs may be irreversable. During this period Amazon had the nerve to call me and inform me that I had 165 hours UPT and wanted to know what the situation was since they do not see an open claim for leave. Oh and they would be willing to work with me to even out my UPT hours. I expalined the whole situation again and the HR rep said she would look into it and call me back. Never a response. At the end of Oct 2015 I received another call from an HR rep saying in order for me to be considered for rehire I needed to send in a letter of resignation or I would be terminated as of the following morning! I did respond and told her exactily what I thought of the company and how they treat their employees. A few days later I received a document requesting my electronic signiture saying that I abandoned my position with Amazon! Needless to say a few days after this an HR business partner contacted me wanting to know the situation and again I explained. She was brought in to find out why the employee turn over rate was so high. She said she was going to look into my situation and see where the company failed to follow through. I informed her there was no need for her to waist her time in researching the companies lack of qualified employees and I expalined all aspects of my experience with their unqualified HR employees and the leave of absence team that seems to purposely take their time in handling your case so you lose your request for leave due to time limits. Through many conversations with the HR business partner she said that since my injury the company has realized they needed to maike some immediate changes in their workplace regulations in order to comply with California law. All managers, supervisors and HR employees have been attending extensive training in how to handle employee injuries per California standards. I have been unable to work since July 2015 and now I am expected to be out for at least another year with no income! So, I have finally hired an attorney and I am glad I saved all my documentation and conversations with the HR business partner admitting they were not prepared to handle employee injuries per California standards. It could all lead to nothing as they seem to get away with anything and their worker comp doctors seem to have some type of financial benefit in the system as well?

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I got hurt at Amazon starting in January, I informed all my supervisors that I was hurt but they never made any attempt to help me. Instead when my rate began dropping due to extreme pain they began to punish me with write ups and having coaches hound me while I was trying my best to keep my rate up. Finally in April the newest supervisor advised me to get a restrictions list so he could get me moved to a less labor intensive department. I did. Brought it in the following week and was sent to the Amcare then HR where they told me I was put on Off duty. I couldn't work until I got their paperwork done. So I got that done and they said they'd "get back to me within a week" if they could accommodate me. I never heard back, I had to go down to the HR office and harass them to find out only to find that they "could not accommodate me". I was put on leave for a month, that was a month of time I didn't get a paycheck and had to pay medical bills on top of it. When I went back on June 5th they put me back in the same department only to get injured in the same spot within an hour. Back on off duty with no pay. Now here I am almost in August with little headway. I got a lawyer, and I recommend anyone else does too! Don't let them get away with treating you like a robot!

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I just started working at Amazon distribution and on my third day I realized I had injured myself. I went to my superior who sent me to their EMT team. They treated me like I was not hurt, did not check my injury, instead they sent me to the bathroom with a bottle of ben gay to rub down. I was then sent to HR where I was handed a paper stating I was placed off duty for a NON-working ijnury until a doctor evaluated me with any restrictions i may have so they may be able to accommodate me! Needless to say I went to my private doctor and have been placed off work due to my injury, i tried calling amazon hr dept for two days with no reply. Finally got a hold of someone and explained the issue and I was told I needed to contact the leave of absence dept???? Why...its a work injury! I don't know what to do, I have never experienced anything like this in my life. So i guess i will need to contact a workmans comp attorney?

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In Arizona we are having issues with Amazon.com with regards to unemployment benefits. After reading this article and having been released from Amazon.com I would say it sounds like the state of Arizona must have made a deal for Amazon.com to forgoe paying unemployment benefits as a lure in order to still benefit from all of that much needed tax revenue! Just saying. I have not only been denied my benefits, I am now being called a fraud by the state in which I live. It is a sad situation that has states turning on their own citizens and prosecuting them in courtrooms for a crime that they themselves have perpetrated upon we the citizens.

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As the author of "Death Row Madam" I had my books pulled from Amazon.com website due to their outrageous fees and violating their own review rules. They took over 50% sales commission on my books, then later began deducting annual fees stocking fees from my checks, without my knowledge or consent. The last straw was when they allowed a disgruntled tenant to post a false & misleading, defamatory review under an AKA, despite the fact she never even purchased my book on Amazon and refused to remove it.

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