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Workers wonder about their rights in the workplace during coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 7:59 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 23:01:07-04

PHOENIX — Employees testing positive for COVID-19 at some of the Valley's largest businesses has caused workers to wonder about their health and safety on the job.

Two employees have coronavirus from Amazon's PHX6 Fulfillment Center on 51st Avenue and Buckeye Road. Coworkers received recorded phone messages to inform them and reassure them about disinfection and social distancing policies. The message also said employees would not be penalized for any absence, and they should stay home if sick.

One employee, who asked ABC15 to withhold his name so he wouldn't face retribution, said his concern level was a "10" because "I do fall into the high-risk category."

In a statement to ABC15, Amazon said, "We’re continuing to monitor the situation in our facilities and corporate offices, and we are taking proactive measures to protect employees and associates who have been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or becomes ill."

In a recent blog post, Amazon detailed it's cleaning, social distancing, and coronavirus quarantine policies for all of its locations and workgroups.
The Phoenix employee said, in such a large workplace, the social distancing policies only go so far.

"Going to the break room, going to lunch, or clocking in and clocking out, there's always some small group somewhere," he said. "The best option would be just to shut the warehouse down for a week or two until they can fully sanitize the whole warehouse."

The Amazon worker thought customers would understand why it would take extra days to deliver their packages. Amazon has not given any indication that shutdown would be a viable option.

At Intel's Ocotillo Campus in Chandler, a construction worker also tested positive this week.

"We immediately conduct contact tracing," Intel spokeswoman Linda Qian, "Other individuals who may have been in close contact with that individual are also required to self-quarantine until test results are available."

The computer chip manufacturer learned lessons from its factories in China, which were impacted by coronavirus months ago.

Most of their 12,000 Arizona employees started working from home on March 13. For the rest, there are additional hand washing stations. Extra tents were set up for social distancing while eating lunch.

"Some of these measures include staggering shift change, adjusting meeting locations and schedules, and limiting activities that include close proximity," Qian said.

Intel also hired full-time social distancing coaches to remind construction workers to avoid getting too close.

Employment attorney Benjamin Taylor said employees should talk to their bosses if they have health and safety concerns, and in essential jobs, workers could be disciplined or fired for refusing to go to work. However, those bosses also have legal responsibilities.

"Employers need to make sure that they're working in a clean and sanitary environment, meaning employees are not right next to each other, breathing on each other, and coughing," Taylor said.

If management does not act by initiating appropriate precautions, employees can make a report to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA may inspect the workplace and require changes.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com, call 602-803-2506, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.