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New California law addresses unsafe quotas in warehouses

On Behalf of | Jan 5, 2022 | Employment Law

If you work in a warehouse or fulfillment center, a new California law may help keep you safer. AB 701 establishes new standards and rules for this type of fast-paced work:

  • It requires companies to make clear what the production quota actually is
  • It ensures workers can’t be fired or otherwise retaliated against for failing to reach an unsafe quota
  • It bars the use of algorithms to track meal and rest breaks and specifically prohibits workers from being fired for missing an unsafe quota because they were on a rest or bathroom break

The law also authorizes the Labor Commission to issue citations when companies violate the new rules. The commission can also monitor workers’ compensation claims to identify facilities with high injury rates and determine whether unsafe quotas are to blame.

Amazon warehouses have nearly twice the rate of injury as industry standard

Amazon, which is known to engage in some practices that will now be prohibited, is America’s second largest employer, only behind Walmart. Amazon plans to hire as many as 100,000 new workers this year, according to NPR.

Unfortunately, Amazon’s fulfillment center policies seem to be contributing to a lot of workplace injuries. According to several investigations, Amazon’s rate of serious injuries at warehouses is almost double the average in the industry. Workers have complained that they are rushed to pack and ship orders nonstop and that they aren’t given their legally required rest and bathroom breaks.

Tracking workers by algorithm has been blamed for some of the time pressure, as has tracking workers’ “time off task.” This tracking, according to the company, is to monitor “issues with the tools that people use.” However, it is also used to flag underperforming workers, who may simply be people who went to the bathroom one too many times.

The new law is controversial among retailers

“We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people,” said Governor Newsom in a statement after signing the bill into law. “The hardworking warehouse employees who have helped sustain us during these unprecedented times should not have to risk injury or face punishment as a result of exploitative quotas that violate basic health and safety.”

The head of the California Retailers Association, a trade group, issued a statement marking the group’s disappointment that the law has been passed.

“With California’s ports facing record backlogs of ships waiting off the coast and inflation spiking to the fastest pace in 13 years,” she said, “AB 701 will make matters worse for everyone — creating more back-ordered goods and higher prices for everything from clothes, diapers and food to auto parts, toys and pet supplies.”

But warehouse workers should not have to put up with double the injury rate due to excessive quotas. They shouldn’t be fired for opposing an unsafe quota.

Leigh Law Group represents employees throughout California in labor and employment matters.