Amazon's Firings of Whistleblowing Workers Violated Labor Law, NLRB Finds

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 6, 2021

Amazon illegally fired a pair of employees at its Seattle headquarters who publicly criticized the company, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found. The workers had urged Amazon to reduce its impact on climate change and to do more to protect warehouse workers from the coronavirus.

Unfair labor practice claims against Amazon, the nation's second-largest employer, have become frequent enough (nearly 40 since February 2020) that the NLRB recently told NBC News it is considering a nationwide investigation to see if a pattern is emerging at the company.

The NLRB said it would file unfair labor practice claims against Amazon in this case if the company did not settle, according to correspondence shared with The New York Times. The two fired women were active members of a group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, that organized about 400 employees to speak out about the business. The women also raised safety concerns in Amazon's warehouses at the outset of the pandemic.

Amazon maintained that it did not terminate the women for criticizing working conditions but for repeatedly violating its internal policies. But in its preliminary finding, the NLRB disagreed.

Speaking on an XpertHR podcast last year about this case and employee speech generally, Ohio management-side employment attorney Jonathan Hyman said he would have advised Amazon to ignore the employees' criticism.

"The PR issues sometimes in these cases often trump the legal issues," said Hyman. "What Amazon is doing here is taking an internal employee issue and making it way more public than it probably ever would have become, and they're creating a PR nightmare for themselves."

The NLRB's latest determination comes as Amazon awaits the results of a closely watched union election that will decide whether nearly 6,000 employees at its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse will be able to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union. The labor board had denied Amazon's request to block a regional director's order to conduct the election using mail-in ballots.