Injured while working at an Amazon fulfillment center? Here’s what you need to know about obtaining your full benefits.
As the second-largest employer in the United States (behind Walmart) and the world’s largest retailer outside of China, Amazon is a massive company employing nearly 1 million Americans all over the nation, including 7 warehouses (or “fulfillment centers”) in North Carolina—including in Concord, Charlotte, Garner, Durham and Kernersville. Each center employs up to 1,500 full-time workers in the 800,000-square-feet warehouses.
Amazon warehouse workers perform laborious jobs such as finding, picking, preparing, packing and shipping orders consisting of everything from heavy tools and furniture to chemicals to sharp knives. As with any warehouse, the risk of injury is high in Amazon fulfillment centers. But journalists and researchers have found that Amazon employees are injured at even higher rates than is “normal” for the industry—often because they are required by the company to meet strict quotas and work faster, thus increasing the risk of injury further. As a result, these warehouses are breeding grounds for workplace accidents, injuries and workers’ compensation claims.
Regardless of experience, Amazon warehouse workers report a higher rate of injuries while on the job, including:
Does Amazon pay for medical treatment after a work injury?
Work injuries are generally considered to be either acute or cumulative.
An acute injury is a one-time incident like tripping on stairs. This would be an event that a worker could clearly recall and pinpoint a specific time when the incident occurred.
Some work injuries may instead be diagnosed as cumulative, which means symptoms like pain or swelling gradually get worse over time, eventually requiring treatment. In cases of cumulative injury, an employee would likely be unable to recall a specific incident that caused their symptoms but might report pain that began in a certain month.
Both acute and cumulative work injuries often require treatment such as emergency room care, evaluations, consultations, follow-up visits, physical therapy, medication, labs, x-rays or other diagnostics, and sometimes even surgery.
Under workers’ compensation laws in North Carolina and South Carolina, Amazon is required to pay for medical treatment and lost wages to most employees who suffer a work injury.
Further, injured Amazon workers are typically entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in the form of financial compensation. If a worker is forced to take off work while they recover, then the worker is entitled to indemnity payment until an authorized physician releases them to return to work.
Unfortunately, some work injuries even result in Amazon warehouse deaths.
In 2017, 3 Amazon workers died at 3 separate facilities within a period of 5 weeks.
Amazon has tried implementing robots as a form of safety in the warehouses to replace some duties of the employees. However, that has simply increased the efficiency and therefore the expectations of what human workers can accomplish in a given amount of time have also risen, which increases the risk of injury.
In fact, injury rates at the 3 North Carolina warehouses—2 in Charlotte and 1 in Concord—have gone up since adding the robots to the staff, according to Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Their serious injury rate is more than double the industry average and the highest in the region.
What are an injured worker’s rights?
Fortunately, Amazon employees in North and South Carolina have rights. It’s important that Amazon employees understand the process so they can obtain the medical treatment, income compensation and gas mileage reimbursement (while traveling to and from medical providers) to which they are entitled.
Since Amazon employs far more than 3 individuals, state law requires them to carry workers’ compensation insurance to pay medical bills and benefits in the event of an associate’s injury or death.
In the event of death, Amazon’s workers’ compensation insurer must pay funeral benefits up to $10,000 in North Carolina or $2,500 in South Carolina, along with lost income benefits to the deceased employee’s relatives.
Lost income is calculated using two-thirds of the injured worker’s average weekly or monthly earnings. A worker may receive temporary total disability benefits while recovering from injury until a physician clears them to return to regular duty. The injured party might be entitled to temporary partial disability benefits if they can return to work after injury but must work fewer hours or at a decreased pay rate while recovering.
An employee could be entitled to permanent partial disability should the injury cause a long-term disability and prevent the worker from returning to their previous position. Permanent total disability compensation is possible if the injury disables the employee from employment at all for the rest of their lives.
What to do if you are hurt during your shift
Always report the injury to your supervisor and/or human resources as soon as possible or within a reasonable period of time. If you require immediate transport to the emergency room, then you will not be penalized for not reporting the injury right away, but otherwise failing to report the accident can work against you.
Amazon’s workers’ compensation insurance should then pay the resulting medical bills; however, the law provides them the right to approve or authorize treatment. This means the insurance can deny treatment and refuse payment. Reasons for nonpayment can include assertions that the injury is not work-related, non-compensable, unreasonable or unnecessary.
Should you receive notice from your treating medical provider or employer’s insurance company that treatment for your work injury is denied, you should immediately contact a workers’ compensation attorney. At Wilder Pantazis Law Group, we will fight for your rights to all benefits so you can focus on healing.