AG Tong calls on Amazon and Whole Foods to increase paid leave to employees during COVID-19 emergency

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong (contributed photo)

Hartford, CT – Attorney General William Tong today called on Amazon and Whole Foods to increase paid sick and family leave provided to their employees during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Attorney General Tong joined 15 attorneys general in sending a letter asking the companies to provide increased paid sick and family leave in line with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), which was enacted by Congress on March 19 to ensure paid leave for workers during this crisis.

Grocery stores such as Whole Foods remain one of the few places where people are regularly congregating in close quarters, and the attorneys general write that it is especially important to ensure these stores do everything possible to minimize the risk of infection. Additionally, with consumers relying more than ever on online shopping, workers at busy Amazon warehouses are at risk of transmitting the virus to each other.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to the workers at Amazon and Whole Foods on the front lines of this fight keeping Americans fed and delivering supplies. Their hard work has allowed many others to shelter at home, helping to ‘flatten the curve’ and save lives. Even with all possible precautions in place, they are taking risks to remain on the job. They need and deserve robust paid sick leave to care for themselves, their family members, and to help their children suddenly home from school.  In the unfortunate circumstance that any of these employees is exposed or becomes ill, they will need sufficient time to recover and keep their coworkers safe,” said Attorney General Tong.  “I urge Amazon and Whole Foods to do the right thing here and adopt the requirements of Families First.”

Under the Families First Act, employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide two weeks of fully paid time off to full- and part-time workers to self-quarantine, seek preventative care, or receive treatment for COVID-19; two weeks paid time off at two-thirds their regular pay for full- and part-time workers to care for family members; and 12 weeks of job-protected leave at no less than two-thirds of their usual rate of pay to take care of their children if their school or daycare closes.

In the letter, the attorneys general urge Amazon and Whole Foods to voluntarily adopt the requirements in the Families First Act and additionally to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who must stay at home to care for children due to school closures or for themselves and family members if diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined. Finally, the attorneys general ask Amazon not to overlook their delivery drivers who are classified as independent contractors and to provide additional money to their Emergency Fund for those workers, so that they also receive comparable benefits provided to regular employees.

The attorneys general write that the recent offer from Whole Foods, and its owner Amazon to provide two weeks of paid leave to employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine is far less than what the Families First Act requires of smaller employers and what other large employers have provided. Walmart, for example, has announced it will provide two weeks paid leave in addition to employees’ regular 80 hours of paid time off, and up to 26 weeks of temporary disability benefits.

Today’s effort and was led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

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