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Amazon – it’s the company that we all know and love for its lightning fast shipping, often getting your orders to you as quickly as next day. Not only does Amazon offer its customers a more convenient way to shop, but it also offers many items at cheaper prices than you would find at most major retailers. While it is easy to imagine that this industry trend setter has perfected some algorithm enabling it to deliver cheaper, and quicker than most retailers, it has recently come to light that Amazon’s services come at a different kind of  cost; long hours, little to no bathroom breaks, and hefty physical demands.

Many of the poor working conditions complained of by Amazon employees result from these hefty performance demands placed on the workers. Amazon utilizes a “rate” system, meaning that workers must fulfill a specified quota in a specified amount of time. For example, an individual who is employed as a “picker” with Amazon will often only have a few seconds to reach a shelf, regardless of its location, pick the item, scan it, and place it on a line to be packaged and sent to the consumer. In addition, workers are provided, on their scanning device, information announcing whether they are on par for meeting their rate or if they are behind. This sound quite efficient, but as many employees complain, a simple trip to the bathroom is enough to lower an employee’s rate to irredeemably behind schedule, placing them at risk of receiving a warning, being written up by a supervisor, or even terminated. The utilization of the bathroom is so detrimental to an employee’s career, that many suffer from dehydration out of fear that if they drink, they will have to use the bathroom and their jobs will be in jeopardy. The task of staying on time is complicated further when one factors in the distance an employee must cover between picks, sometimes being required to walk football fields away to obtain their next pick. On average, an Amazon picker will walk 10 to 12 miles a day, a feat for even the spryest of employees. So why does Amazon utilize a rate system? To achieve its daily goal of having an order processed every 10-20 seconds. Many employees at Amazon, however, claim that this goal and the rate system utilized are unsustainable.

This week, at several of Amazon’s warehouses across the globe, and in the midst of Amazon’s Prime day, several workers chose to voice their concerns about treatment.  Despite the complaints and strikes, Amazon has maintained its position that the protestors’ claims are in many respects baseless. Amazon prides itself on “industry-leading pay”, plentiful benefits, a 401k, and safe work environment for its employees. Amazon serves, moreover, as one of the United States’ largest employers, employing just under 600,000 individuals in 2018 and has served as an industry trend setter. Amazon claims to have revolutionized worker productivity, and has created an impressive business model with an economic benefit to consumers that extends far past just the consumers’ wallet. Amazon has had the effect of reducing inflation rights, reducing unemployment, an encouraging the growth of small businesses.

In 2019, New York employees can expect to see a dramatic increase in the protections they are afforded as whistleblowers. Two bills, one originating from the Assembly (A7384) and one from the Senate (S3683), would amend New York’s Whistleblower Statutes (N.Y.L.L. §§740, 741) while simultaneously expanding the statutes’ breadth and protections.

Should this new legislation pass, potential whistleblowing employees may rest easier, as these new bills provide increased protection for those who choose to report concerns of workplace misconduct. The amendments make a number of crucial changes. Most notably, A7384 expands who is protected by the statute by including not only private employees in its definition of protected individuals, but also public and former employees who were not included previously. The bill also protects employees by eliminating the need for there to be an actual violation of the law by an employer for an employee to be protected. Instead, an employee merely needs to show that he or she “in good faith reasonably believes [an employer activity] has occurred or will occur” and “in good faith reasonably believes  [that such activity] constitutes [an] illegal business activity.” This good faith requirement, adds the qualification that an employee can only be protected for bringing the suspected illegal activity to the attention of the employer (with a few specific exceptions). However, this requirement is eased by the inclusion of a requirement that employers must put employees on notice of their rights under the Whistleblower Statutes by posting a notice containing these rights in an easy to view location in the workplace.

Similarly, these new bills lower the bar required for an employee to meet the burden of proof in cases where the employee claims an adverse employment action was taken against them in retaliation for whistleblowing. Previously, an employee would have to prove that the whistleblowing was a “but-for” cause of the adverse action. To illustrate, an employee’s whistleblowing is a but-for cause if no adverse action would have been taken against the employee “but for” their reporting. Under the new laws, however, an employee must only show that his/her whistleblowing was a contributing factor in the employer’s adverse action against the employee. For example, under the new laws, an adverse action is actionable if the employee’s whistleblowing was one of the several reasons which motivated the employer to take an adverse action against the whistleblower.

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