Four workers at an Oklahoma City Amazon fulfillment center report that the company routinely takes months to honor doctor’s orders for lighter assignments for pregnant people, putting employees in the position of either risking miscarriage or taking unpaid leave and facing the prospect of being fired.
A pregnant Amazon worker at the Oklahoma facility named Michelle Posey told Vice that in June, she presented her managers at Amazon a “modified duty” letter from her doctor advising that she not lift weights greater than 15 pounds. The company responded that due to covid, there were no available positions to accommodate the request. After a supervisor allegedly told her “If you can’t do your job, why don’t you leave?,” Posey says she took an unpaid leave of absence during which someone who worked for Amazon contacted her and instructed her to ask her gynecologist to “lift the restrictions.” When the doctor did not, Posey says she couldn’t work until September, five months after submitting her modified duty request, when the distribution center finally reassigned her and paid her just $500 in back wages.
Three other employees who wished to remain anonymous shared similar stories, with one pregnant worker telling Vice’s Motherboard that her doctor-ordered accommodation request for a 20-pound weight limit for pushing, pulling, and lifting along with a 10-minute break was only honored after multiple visits to the emergency room for vaginal bleeding. Another says her car was repossessed and she faced shut off notices from utility companies over unpaid bills as she took unpaid leave rather than go against doctor’s orders waiting for her request for reassignment to be approved by Amazon.
At the federal level, Amazon’s refusal to accommodate pregnant workers is completely legal. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act grants pregnant people the right to request accommodation based on doctor recommendation, but does not mandate that all employers honor them unless they have honored similar requests in the past. At the Oklahoma fulfillment center, employees say that the company’s HR team is supposed to pass requests along to the company’s Employee Resource Center in order to grant new assignments, though one pregnant worker says that she never heard back from her designated HR representative about the status of her request, and those who were reassigned say that their duties still exceeded their doctors’ orders and supervisors had to frequently be reminded about weight restrictions and break accommodations.
“I wish I could reach out to Jeff Bezos to tell him... the conditions that pregnant women are under make us choose between risking our baby or not getting paid and losing everything,” one of the Amazon workers told Vice. However, Bezos is likely well aware, as last year, seven former employees sued the company, claiming that during their pregnancies, they were fired after requesting the company honor similar accommodations from doctors—or even grant them regular bathroom breaks.