COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Posted in Amazon

It is no secret that workers at Amazon distribution centers work in frequently intolerable conditions, even before the onslaught of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).  Amazon itself released data revealing that injury rates at one of its warehouses were three times the industry average.[1]  An investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed injury records from 23 of the company’s 110 fulfillment centers showed that the rate of serious injuries was 9.6 per 100 full-time workers – compared to an industry average of 4 per 100.  Workers have described being on their feet for 12 hour shifts, walking a total of 15 to 20 miles in a day.[2]  In at least one warehouse, there have been reports of a vending machine carrying over the counter pain medication for workers.[3]  Workers have complained that every single activity is monitored and tracked, and that they are subject to discipline for such basic activities as using the bathroom or getting a drink of water, and that supervisors receive reports of employees’ bathroom time.[4]  Beyond the Orwellian tracking of employees’ every single activities, Amazon expects its workers to work at a grueling pace, and workers have complained of back sprains, bulging discs, joint inflammation, and chronic pain.[5]


Set against these already disturbing working conditions is the fact that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in some of Amazon’s warehouses.  As of May 21, at least 8 Amazon workers nationwide had tragically passed away from COVID-19, including one in Waukegan, Illinois.[6]  Amazon has not disclosed how many workers have tested positive.[7]  In fact, a Vice President at Amazon Web Services resigned his position after he alleged that the company was “firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19.”[8]  Meanwhile, despite these deplorable working conditions that COVID-19 has worsened, Amazon has seen a surge in business due to people staying at home; this means that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos could be a trillionaire by 2026.[9]

Amazon workers getting hurt and sick at work is not a remote or faraway problem – Amazon has several facilities throughout Illinois and especially in Chicagoland – such as in Joliet, Edwardsville, Wood Dale, Naperville, Monee, and others.  These workers are friends, family, neighbors, who deserve to have a safe and healthy place to work, where they are not treated like machines and are not at risk for contracting a deadly disease.

Out of an over-abundance of caution during this pandemic, the government and many health care facilities across Chicago have halted many elective surgical procedures. Presumably, this was done to help prevent hospitals from being over-stressed with too many patients and not enough resources. Nationally, one in five doctors have had their pay cut since the novel Coronavirus crisis began.(Source via Business Insider) Some have even been laid off. The first hit to the health care industry was for elective and outpatient surgeries, which is not only hurting the orthopedic, pain management, and gastroenterology fields, but other fields like oncology and vascular surgery are seeing procedures pushed back. The next group of doctors that have been hit hard due to the pandemic is internal medicine. With so many fewer patients afraid to go to a doctor’s office, the only way internal medicine doctors have been able to survive is to use different forms of telemedicine, especially to follow up and monitor patients who have Covid-19 symptoms. (read more on CNBC) The next wave of people to be harmed by the slowdown is the medical staff. Without elective procedures, nurses, CNA’s, medical assistants, physician assistants, and various other health care workers are experiencing the same problems. It is obvious to most people that these health care cut-backs are going to cause another major hit to the national economy. (read more at The Washington Post)

Like many frontline workers in Illinois, most doctors simply ask for the basic personal protective equipment so that they can safety do their job. It is no wonder that they also ask that their staff members get the same. In reality, local hospitals have fallen short, which has gotten numerous doctors, nurses, and staff members sick with Covid-19. Health care workers contracting this disease due to their job duties have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim in Chicago as well as any other part of Illinois. It is clear that Chicago has been the hardest hit city in the state when it comes to Covid-19. This means that as patients fill hospital and nursing home beds, the number of sick health care workers also increases. The first important thing that must be remembered in any workers’ compensation case involving a health care worker is that we do not have to prove that the employer was at fault. Illinois has a no fault workers compensation system. This makes it easier for an employee to recover. The second important thing that must be remembered in any case involving a sick or injured health care worker is that Illinois has a rebuttable presumption for any Covid-19 case for an essential worker. This means that a health care worker who contracts Covid-19 is presumed to have fallen ill on the job. (source via Chicago Tribune) While an employer can still fight a claim like they usually do when they get in touch with their insurance carrier, having an evidentiary presumption gives health care workers an advantage in recovering benefits like lost and future wages, medical bills, and an award or settlement that is proportionate to a person’s average weekly wage. What’s more, a family of a deceased worker can recover benefits.

Undoubtedly, the insurance industry is fearful that doctors and nurses will exercise their rights and file claims since there will be permanent impairment to lung, kidney, liver, and cardiac function with mild cases just like there were with the original SARS outbreak in 2003-2004. The reason that the insurance industry is so concerned about this legal development has to do with the possibility that doctors and nurses will cost the insurance industry billions by filing claims since their wage loss is so significant. However, given that insurance companies will deceive, dupe, and trick injured individuals into taking low settlements or making a person believe that they have no claim, it is expected that the health care industry will make a record number of workers compensation claims in 2020. As we have for over 60 years, Katz Friedman is investigating injuries caused on the job and will fight to help obtain full, fair, and proper compensation for those workers as it is their right under the laws of our state. You may call us at anytime at our toll free number, 1-800-444-1525 or simply click on “Contact” above. We answer our telephone 24 hours a day. When making decisions regarding a injuries and death from Covid-related injuries, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the employer already has their lawyers working on this issue to defeat your claim.

An article in the New York Times on April 22 noted that “outbreaks [of Covid-19] are mounting in processing plants and factories in Midwestern towns.” (Source)

We have been representing injured workers from these plants, factories and towns for over 50 years. We have seen ancient machines that were built without thought of the safety of the workers who operated those machines give way to more modern machines that may create an incrementally safer workplace but have automated away many of the jobs the grandparents and parents of today’s workers used to hold. We have seen jobs that were brutal and repetitive become modified to allow rotation so workers do not do exactly the same thing for their entire shift.

This is part of the cycle of manufacturing. When things are new they are engineered for profit and efficiency. After many workers suffer and many dollars are paid in claims the companies re engineer and try to come up with processes that are safer for union workers and less costly for the executives and insurance companies.

We have rallied around our first responders who are protecting us against Covid-19 and who maintain order and protect our homes and lives. Many houses have homemade signs in their windows expressing solidarity with police, fire and healthcare workers. We join in that sentiment and are aware of the risks those workers take every day. However, they are not the only ones who are continuing to work and continuing to put their lives at risk.

There is a wide range of “essential workers” who continue to provide service, continue to risk their lives by making contact with other humans as we attempt to live normal lives in the wake of the pandemic. The Governor has designated the following workers as essential:

  •  Healthcare and Public Health Operations (includes businesses in the supply chain)

As scientific modeling shows a peak and flattening of the curve by mid-April, the time that it will take for the leveling out and decline will probably last until early May. That means that the exposure that medical professionals working at places like UIC, University of Chicago, Advocate, Rush, Amita, and Northwestern have had to this disease will only worsen until the cases decline substantially from where they are now. (source via NPR) This likely means that those employed in healthcare will see an even greater percentage of work injuries due to Covid-19 than many scientists first predicted. Although people in Illinois hear the news about how the efforts to slow the novel Coronavirus down are working, they are usually not aware of that the same horror stories that are seen in New York City are happening in Chicago and across Illinois. In fact, hospitals in Chicago are running short of personal protective equipment necessary for health care workers to maintain body substance isolation from infected patients. Rather than provide the necessary equipment, hospitals are putting their employees at risk of falling ill with Covid-19 by failing to provide enough masks, gowns, and face shields. Many hospitals are telling nurses to re-use masks and gowns. Without this equipment, hospital management is essentially putting their nurses, nurse’s aides, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physician’s assistants, and doctors in harm’s way.

Fortunately for healthcare professionals, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission issued an emergency rule deeming essential workers including but not limited to EMT’s/ paramedics, CNA’s, RN’s, CNP’s, PA’s, technicians, therapists, and doctors as presumed to have contracted Covid-19 at work if they get a positive test. (source via WBEZ) The impact of this rule is groundbreaking to say the least because it puts pressure on an hospital to try to show how their employee did not contract Covid-19 on the job. Thus, when a sick healthcare worker can show that they contracted Covid-19 and were working for a health care provider, they will have an easier time succeeding on their case. That being said, insurance companies will not second-guess fighting any Covid-19 work comp claim that they can. Not only is it in the nature of insurance companies to fight legitimate claims, insurance companies rarely see the negative perception in instances where they try to take advantage of sick and injured people. Legal scholars predict that despite this recent rule benefiting all sick healthcare workers, insurance companies intend to fight the cases brought by healthcare workers as the court system starts to return to normal.

It is anticipated that insurance companies and their lawyers will try to minimize the suffering, harm, and damage done to healthcare workers by claiming that they have little to no permanency and thus deserve little to no award. While this may sound shameful on many levels, it also disregards the science that is out there related to the harmful long-term effects of those who survived SARS-CoV-1 and the data that is coming out from the early survivors of SARS-CoV-2. If the recent outbreak has just slightly similar long-term effects as the first outbreak, it is highly likely that our health care system will become weakened for decades. The infections from Covid are leaving various physical and mental health damages. Primarily, we know the lung scarring and diminished lung capacity is the most concerning part of the body that is being widely impacted. Furthermore, it is thought that besides lung issues, infected persons can suffer from bone and joint issues. In particular, we may see necrosis of the hip. (source via Nature) What is also alarming is that along with decreased lung function, diminished cardiac function is also likely. Many people dying of Covid-19 are dying from cardiac arrest and heart failure. Heart disease from Covid-19 is unfortunately expected to become rampant. (source via Nature) Even for those healthcare workers who have milder cases, they can expect to see themselves and many of their colleagues develop impaired endurance and chronic fatigue. (sources via National Center for Biotechnology and Journale of American Medical Association Network)

Grocery store and delivery workers have recently been thrown into the front lines in the battle against the most dangerous pandemic in 100 years. As business after business shuts down, food delivery has become one of the most important parts of the economy. Across the country, workers at places like Amazon, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Domino’s, Costco, Uber Eats, Chipotle, and McDonalds have received much deserved praise and admiration for providing essential services to millions of people sheltered and isolated at home. While these employers are increasing wages and making promises to provide protective equipment, workers are still falling ill. What’s more, is that these employees are still getting hurt on the job and they still aren’t fully aware of their rights to compensation. While drivers involved in car accidents often have the ability to file two different claims, workers contracting Covid on the job are being left in the dark by their companies.

The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful death alleging that Walmart failed to keep its employee safe from the Coronavirus. In fact, two Evergreen Park employees died just four days apart from Covid. Both employees were long-term Walmart associates with nine and fifteen years of dedicated service. While legal scholars highly doubt the chances of a civil lawsuit for a work-related injury succeeding, there is no doubt that these co-workers’ families are within their rights to file a workers’ compensation claims for death benefits. In Illinois, workers’ compensation death benefits are paid for 25 years or up to $500,000.00, whichever is greater. While many lawyers would file for workers’ compensation benefits in a situation like this, a civil action, if not dismissed in the early stages of the case, still runs the risk of Walmart claiming many different highly-factual defenses. For instance, Walmart is already disputing the family’s timeline of how the deaths of its employees took place. Bottom line, Walmart will claim that the employees were not present when they contracted the disease. Like with most legal cases, corporations and employers like Walmart will hire expert doctors who almost always give an opinion that the injury or illness simply was not caused by anything on the job or the incident itself.

The concern with these deaths around Chicago is the lack of personal protective equipment at Walmart. While OSHA and the CDC may look into the matter, companies are trying to get ahead of the disease by doing their own testing and providing more protective equipment. At a minimum, these deaths have prompted companies to disinfect and sanitize the work place. Amazon has recently been testing disinfectant fog to clean warehouses and distribution centers. Regardless of whether Amazon makes a difference in the health and safety of their employees, the company has plans to hire at least 100,000 additional workers. On the one hand, the extra workers will be necessary to help with the heavy increase in demand for the necessities of life being delivered to millions of homes. On the other hand, many workers suspect that Amazon is planning to use the additional workers to fill the vacant spots of sick and injured workers who not only get hurt in slip and fall incidents or get hit by forklifts, but also for those who contract Covid and are off work for at least two weeks. The spread of the disease at Amazon warehouses is so prevalent that more than fifty Amazon warehouses have reported Coronavirus cases. This comes as no surprise when a typical warehouse worker touches as many as two thousand items per day and many of them do this without personal protection.

The world is watching the dedication and courage of Amazon workers hour by hour each day through this crisis. Amazon management has clearly taken notice of their importance and provided wage increases. Still, without more safety protections at these warehouses, Amazon workers are becoming more worried about their health and the health of their families in these uncertain times. To protect against work accidents involving Covid-19, Amazon workers at distribution and fulfillment centers were informed via text message on Sunday that it was recommended that they wear a mask to work. Most people would presume that Amazon would be supplying the masks, but as it turns out Amazon only has a limited number of masks. When an employee wants a mask, the employee has to ask managers for a mask. The text message set out the following information to employees:

“Your health and safety is most important. We recommend everyone wears a facemask of some kind covering their nose and mouth from arrival through departure of your shift. We will have facemasks in limited quantities for anyone entering the building to wear as a recommended preventative measure, and if you prefer you may bring your own mask, including fabric masks. We have teams working nonstop to continue sourcing supplies, including masks, and are working hard to stay in stock with masks during this event. If you would like a mask, please ask a manager or designated “Hand-out POC” at the start of your shift. The mask should be used by one person for the shift and not be shared. You must also know how to use it and dispose of it safely. Details will be posted around the site.”

As with other recent concerning aspects of inadequate job safety and training at fulfillment and distribution centers, many Amazon workers are deeply concerned that the company is focused more on production than well-being and work injuries, especially given the recent hiring increases that serve as a reminder that the non-union workforce at Amazon is replaceable in management’s eyes.

Today, warehouse workers have a lot to worry about during this COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the current pandemic, some warehouse workers had considerable cause for concern about their workplace safety, especially if they worked for Amazon. Reports looking at numbers from 2018 showed that Amazon’s reported serious injury rate far exceeded the industry average, sometimes more than tripling the national average for warehouse facilities. Warehouse injuries can be serious, and sometimes even be permanently disabling. To be sure you are getting all the compensation you deserve for your Illinois warehouse accident, be sure you have the right legal representation by retaining a knowledgeable Chicago workers’ compensation attorney.

In February, The Hill covered an effort by certain U.S. Senators urging Amazon to improve worker conditions at its warehouses in the U.S. The senators, who included Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Sherrod Brown, urged the massive company to initiate more “concrete actions” to prioritize safety over efficiency. This push from the senators came after reports showed injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers were “alarmingly high.” Generally speaking, a business in the warehousing industry experienced in 2018, on average, four serious injuries per 100 full-time workers. Amazon’s full-time rate was almost two-and-a-half times that, at 9.6 per 100, according to one report. Another report pegged that number even higher, at 11 per 100.

In some Amazon facilities, the numbers are even more startling. According to revealnews.org, 10 of Amazon’s warehouses logged injury rates that were roughly triple the industry average… or worse. They ranged from the Fresno, Cal. facility (at 11.9 per 100) to a warehouse just outside Portland, Ore. where the injury rates were a stunning 25.9 per 100.

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Before the recent pandemic, Amazon had come under fire for various workplace safety incidents, including one in Joliet, Illinois, involving allegations that the company delayed emergency medical treatment for a worker who suffered a heart attack and died in early 2017. In fact, a lawsuit claims that workers waited 25 minutes before calling 911. Since the fire station was only a half-mile away, it is apparent that the delay probably led to the worker’s death. What makes the allegations against Amazon even more concerning is that no AED (Automated External Defibrillator) was provided because the AED boxes did not actually have the devices inside of them. When the Joliet Fire Department arrived, the EMTs were slowed down by security and were forced to go through the much of the 1,500,000 square foot warehouse facility before reaching the injured worker, which caused him to lose precious time to save his life. Later in 2017, an Amazon forklift operator was crushed and killed at the Plainfield, Indiana fulfillment center. Regulators found out that Amazon did not provide their worker with any safety training. In fact, safety issues at Amazon were dismissed and covered up. It comes as no surprise that the state authorities issued $28,000.00 in fines. 6 other similar incidents took place between November 2018 and September 2019 at the company’s various locations across the U.S., making many people wonder if Amazon is willing to sacrifice human life for the sake of more profits.

In 2018, the Monee warehouse reported 235 injuries. The rate of injury was 2.3 times higher than the industry average. Many people in Will County are concerned about the level of safety at the five fulfillment centers located in their community, especially now with the threat of Covid-19 surrounding their loved ones as they work to supply area families with the necessities of life during this difficult time. Most people have questioned the safety of Amazon workers without masks in the local facilities, but that may change. In announcing daily temperature checks of workers and the supplying of masks, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said via written statement”Whether it’s fulfilling orders in one of our fulfillment centers, delivering an order to a customer’s doorstep, or one of the many roles in between, I couldn’t be more proud of the critical role our teams are serving by enabling people to stay safe at home while receiving the products they need.” While these steps are certain to prevent further Amazon workers from contracting Coronavirus, time will tell if it is enough. Since Amazon already hired 80,000 of the 100,000 additional workers they need, it isn’t hard to imagine that Amazon sees its workers as easily replaceable until more drones and robots can be used to cut down on costs.

Based on Amazon’s conduct, Katz Friedman is investigating work injury cases on behalf of many distribution, warehouse, logistics, and fulfillment center workers in Monee, Joliet, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Romeoville, Waukegan, Aurora, Edwardsville, and Chicago, Illinois. We are also investigating Amazon related to its practices involving Amazon Flex delivery drivers who get hurt on the job but are unfairly denied workers compensation benefits. When making decisions regarding a work injury involving Amazon, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because Amazon has been prepared to fight its injured workers for a very long time. If you or someone you know works for Amazon and has suffered injury due their job at Amazon, the attorneys and staff at Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.

The “gig economy” is where more and more people are finding work. This allows for greater flexibility for workers who do not want to be tied to one job or who have to balance earning a living with family obligations. However, this allows employers to avoid providing benefits such as health insurance and allows companies to deny that they are even an employer.

This has serious consequences when people get hurt. If you drive your own vehicle to deliver packages for Amazon Flex or to carry passengers for Uber or Lyft, they will deny that you are an employee when you get injured. They will refuse to pay the benefits to which you are entitled under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Benefits are paid to employees but not independent contractors. Companies will claim that gig workers are not employees but are independent contractors.

The Courts have found drivers for a pizzeria and for licensed taxi companies are employees. There are no decisions regarding drivers for gig economy companies such as Amazon, Uber or Lyft yet. Gig economy companies say that all workers are paid by 1099. This is only one factor in determining whether somebody is an employee.

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