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Amazon is failing to provide accommodations for disabled workers, labor group claims

As Americans with Disabilities Act hits 33-year anniversary, many hope digital access gaps close qui
As groundbreaking ADA law turns 33, digital access gaps draw scrutiny 02:01

Amazon is failing to provide adequate workplace accommodations for disabled employees, a violation of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), according to labor activists. 

Amazon workers with disabilities told United for Respect, a nonprofit group that advocates for retail workers, that the e-commerce giant's warehouses have high injury rates and that the company discriminates against disabled employees. Amazon's process for injured and disabled workers to request job accommodations is also unclear, according to a report released on Wednesday. 

The study, issued on the anniversary of President George H.W. Bush signing the ADA into law 33 years ago, noted that Amazon portrays the company as a "welcoming workplace" for disabled workers, but claims the reality is far different. The pace of work at its warehouses increases the risk of injury for its employees, while injured or disabled workers face challenges trying to get accommodations, the report alleges. 

"What I thought would be a great job quickly turned into a nightmare," Amazon warehouse worker Denise Kohr said Wednesday in a press conference organized by United for Respect.

She added, "There are far too many injuries happening at Amazon because of the company policies in regards to hitting certain rate quotas...that we have to process a certain amount of products or packages per day in order to avoid some kind of disciplinary action or write-up."

Kohr, who injured her shoulder while working at the company, noted that her requests for accommodations were ignored, and she described her effort to get help from Amazon as "a never-ending process."

She added, "We risk getting injured again because the company will delay or even ignore a request for accommodation."

Allegations of unsafe working conditions have long dogged Amazon's warehouses, with federal regulators fining the retailer earlier this year for safety violations. But there hasn't been as much scrutiny given to its treatment of disabled employees.

Amazon told CBS MoneyWatch that the company was recently named as a "best place to work for disability inclusion" by the Disability Equality Index, which is a joint effort from two disability-rights organizations.

"While we're still reviewing this announcement from a union-created and funded organization, the fact is, we have comprehensive programs for employees who may need accommodations or restricted work either because of a disability or during recovery from an injury — whether it occurred on or off the job," an Amazon spokeswoman told CBS MoneyWatch.

United for Respect said the group is not a union-backed organization. 

"I felt like I was being targeted"

The challenge some disabled workers at Amazon report in getting job accommodations, as required by federal law, appears to be a systemic issue at Amazon, said attorney Frank Kearl with the left-leaning Center for Popular Democracy. 

"The company is designed specifically to exclude individuals with disabilities and churn through them so they no longer stay employed at Amazon," Kearl said in the news conference organized by United for Respect.

Lanita Hammons, an Amazon employee from Little Rock, Arkansas, said in the call that she suffered multiple physical health issues and asked if she could take a break to sit in a chair occasionally throughout the day due to her pain. Her doctor recommended that Hammons use a walker during work. 

After asking for accommodations, Hammons was placed on short-term leave instead, she told reporters.

"I felt like I was being targeted because I needed accommodations," Hammons said. "I got placed on short-term disability leave, and that was extended because they refused to accept my doctor's prescription for me to be on a walker."

Former Amazon employee Kathleen Hildebrant from Sussex, Wisconsin, had a similar experience, and said she was fired after requesting disability accommodations for anxiety and depression. She described Amazon's treatment as "retaliatory."

"They will send people home on a leave of absence with no answer" about accommodations, Hildebrant said. 

But even if a worker receives an accommodation form, that doesn't mean their request will be fulfilled, Kearl said.

"Even if you get the piece of paper, that doesn't mean the manager is going to respect that," he noted. "And there's no one holding those managers accountable."

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