Amazon encourages California workers to get weekly Covid tests

Peter Endig | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon is encouraging front-line employees in California to get weekly Covid-19 tests, as the state rolls out new emergency workplace protections for the coronavirus.

“In accordance with Cal/OSHA’s new Covid-19 emergency regulations, we encourage all Amazon employees to get tested for Covid-19 at least once a week starting the week of December 14th,” says a notice posted on an internal company web site used by warehouse workers and drivers.

A separate notice sent to Whole Foods workers says “WFM [Whole Foods Market] will offer Covid-19 testing to team members once a week (every seven days), and we encourage all team members to participate.” 

Earlier this month, California’s division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued new rules around coronavirus workplace safety measures. The emergency regulations require employers to provide Covid testing when there are multiple infections or outbreaks in the workplace. It also strengthens rules around case tracking, reporting and communication of procedures with employees.  

The tests are being administered at third-party urgent care clinics run by Concentra, a national health care company part-owned by Select Medical Holdings. Concentra will notify employees of their test results.

The notice to Amazon employees told them to get tested outside of their scheduled working hours, and said they will receive up to 1.5 hours of compensation as reimbursement for costs associated with “time and travel.” The separate notice to Whole Foods employees said the costs of the tests will be covered.

Where available, some warehouse workers can get tested under Amazon’s own testing program, which began rolling out over the summer. Under that program, employees test themselves onsite with nasal swabs, using a video for guidance, with a professional supervising. The company’s stated goal was to test the bulk of warehouse workers every two weeks. 

However, Amazon has been slower to offer testing for the legions of Whole Foods employees who work out of nearly 500 locations across the U.S. Whole Worker, an employee advocacy group, has called for the company to provide free coronavirus testing for all team members, including part-time and seasonal.

It’s unclear if Amazon or Whole Foods will keep track of how many employees sign up to get tested at the outside clinics or if workers’ results will be shared with their employer.  

The move to provide testing to California workers comes as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is investigating Amazon’s coronavirus safety measures at warehouses in the state. On Monday, Becerra asked a Sacramento County Superior Court Judge to order the company to comply with its subpoenas for more information on the number of coronavirus infections and deaths at California facilities, among other data. He alleged Amazon has yet to provide adequate information, which Amazon denied. 

Amazon in October disclosed that nearly 20,000 of its roughly 1.37 million Amazon and Whole Foods employees contracted Covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19. The company said the rate of infection among employees was 42% lower than expected, compared with the general population rate in the U.S.

A spokesperson for Amazon did not immediately provide comment. Whole Foods did not respond to requests for comment.

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