Worker Strikes and the Rights of Essential Employees During COVID-19 Crisis

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, workers deemed “essential” for operation in retail and food industry positions are now organizing strikes. Some have even chosen to walk away from their jobs and have stopped showing up to work. The workers on strike are both full-time employees and independent contractors working for companies such as Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods. They are demanding protection from contracting the coronavirus and believe that they are entitled to hazard pay.

What Workers Are Demanding 

While a great majority of the country has been asked to stay home to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, those who work for essential businesses that provide needed supplies for our communities are still required to come to work. Many of these workers are refusing to perform at their jobs unless their employer supplies them with the equipment they believe is needed in order to conduct their duties safely. Workers are requesting hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, gloves, masks, and many are asking that their employers dedicate time to thoroughly deep clean their workspace, especially if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. 

Workers are also demanding hazard pay as compensation for risking their personal health in order to serve our communities. They believe that higher wages will help to offset the risks they are taking by continuing their work. Furthermore, they are requesting more access to paid sick time as they jeopardize their health. 

What Employers Are Providing 

Employers such as Amazon have stated that they are doing their best to make sure that their employees are protected during this time of uncertainty. Amazon has raised their hourly pay rate by providing workers with an extra $2/hour. They also have procedures in place when handling cases concerning workers who test positive for COVID-19. Their regulations for cleaning and shutting down their warehouse locations have been handled on a case-by-case basis so far. Instacart has also addressed the concerns of their independent contractors by stating that they will provide sanitation supplies needed and change their tipping settings for delivery drivers. 

What California is Providing 

The State of California is also working to do its part in protecting these essential workers and those who interact with them in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other public places still in operation. Los Angeles County has recently mandated that all residents wear a mask, bandana, or other forms of coverage to protect the nose and mouth. Essential workers located in the County are also required to wear masks. In time, many surrounding California counties and states will most likely follow suit. This mandate follows the CARES Act Stimulus Package recently passed by the federal government as a means of financially supporting workers, employers, and families during this crisis. 


You can find helpful resources for employee/employer rights and safety by visiting websites for the Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Center for Disease Control


Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment law attorney, mediator, and investigator in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, and Title IX issues. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of the Reddock Law Group, an employment and dispute resolution firm that provides Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services, including mediation, arbitration, and third-party investigations, specializing in employment and labor law, bullying and hazing matters. Angela also is a member of the panel of Mediators and Arbitrators of Judicate West, a leader in providing private dispute resolution services. 

Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on and provided commentary with such media outlets as Court TV, CNN, ABC, CBS, KTLA, KPCC Airtalk-89.3, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, People Magazine, and Essence Magazine.

For more information regarding tips on how to manage and deal with coronavirus in the workplace, connect with Angela on LinkedIn for new updates, or contact her here


This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.