Will Amazon Be Forced to Give Warehouse Workers Bathroom Breaks? Proposed California Legislation Would Regulate Employers’ Use of Strict “Quota” Systems
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a boon for large online retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart, which can rely on their massive network of warehouses to fulfill remote orders for customers following stay-at-home orders. Unfortunately, this places increasing demands on warehouse employees to put their own health and safety at risk. For example, several Amazon warehouse workers told NBC back in March that the “pressure to make rate, or unpack and pack a required number of items per hour, means they have fewer opportunities to step away and wash their hands.” Indeed, employees said it “can take several minutes to walk across the facility to a restroom,” which in turn risks discipline or termination for being “off task” too much.
Assembly Bill 3056
To address employee concerns, the California Assembly is considering a bill to protect “warehouse and distribution center employees” from practices designed to discourage them from taking restroom breaks. Assembly Bill 3056 specifically focuses on the use of production quotas that penalize workers for taking suck breaks. As amended by the Assembly on June 10, the bill’s language states a covered employer may not count “reasonable amounts of time” spent by employees “[a]ccessing or using a restroom or hand washing station or accessing adequate and sanitary hydration” towards a quota. AB 3056 would also require employers to pay a premium wage–time-and-a-half–to any employee if they are required to work “in excess of” a previously established quota. The bill provides for a fine of $250 per employee fine for a first violation, and a $1,000 per employee fine for any subsequent violation.
Again, this legislation is specifically targeted at employers that run warehouses and distribution centers. It defines a covered employer as a business that has “100 or more employees at a single warehouse distribution center or 1,000 or more employees at one or more warehouse distribution centers in the state.” An “employee” in this context includes temporary workers assigned to a business via staffing agency or other third party.
Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, the primary sponsor of AB 3056, said this legislation was necessary to help protect the “basic human dignity” of warehouse workers. She noted that “[s]trict employer imposed quotas means workers are afraid to perform basic human necessities such as going to the bathroom or cleaning their work space because it can be counted against them and lead to them being fired.”
But the California Chamber of Commerce, in its own comments on AB 3056, said Gonzalez’s proposals “increases the cost and burden on employers” and would constitute an unwarranted “government intrusion into how employers manage the workload during a workday.”
Bill Now in the Senate’s Hands
The Assembly passed AB 3056 on June 15 by a vote of 52-20. The measure is now before the California Senate. If the Senate also approves the measure, it would head to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature or veto.
If you have further questions about how AB 3056 might impact your own rights in the workplace, please contact a qualified California employment law attorney.