Whole Foods terminated a worker this week in Orange County, California, who had been keeping a public list of COVID-19 cases confirmed at the company’s grocery stores across the country, Vice reported on Friday.
The worker, Katie Doan, told Vice that Whole Foods fired her for “time theft” after she took a 45-minute break to recover from a panic attack despite having had an arrangement with managers for years to take such breaks.
Doan’s firing came just a day before the Los Angeles Times reported that she had been tallying cases of COVID-19 at Whole Foods warehouses during the pandemic via a crowdsourced list, which last showed that 340 employees have tested positive and four have died, according to Vice.
Both Whole Foods and parent company Amazon have refused to disclose how many employees have tested positive for the disease at their facilities, despite calls from workers, activists, and lawmakers for more transparency. Earlier this month, a group of state attorneys general from 12 states and Washington, DC, demanded in a letter that they release that data.
The letter also demanded that Whole Foods and Amazon provide employees with additional paid and unpaid leave benefits, improve health and safety measures, and address why leaders of worker protests have been laid off — demands that have been echoed by workers who have protested the companies’ policies.
Doan told Vice she believes Whole Foods terminated her “for dissent,” saying: “I knew I’d be fired because I’ve seen how Amazon treats its workers who are involved in organizing… I just didn’t imagine it would come so swiftly, and over a panic attack that I had.”
“Any suggestion that the separation of this Team Member is related to any form of retaliation is completely false,” a Whole Foods spokesperson told Business Insider.
“The Team Member admitted to violating well-established policies, leaving work for long periods of time without clocking out and leaving Team Members and her department without support. We followed standard company practices when investigating the Team Member’s infractions and throughout the separation process,” the spokesperson said.
Amazon has fired at least five workers who have spoken out about working conditions during the pandemic, prompting multiple investigations into whether it violated labor laws and whistleblower protections. Whole Foods has also faced scrutiny for using a heat map to track and score stores it deems at risk of unionizing.