Amazon will give all full- and part-time employees who miss work due to the novel coronavirus up to 14 days of pay.
This is “to ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost pay,” Amazon human resources chief Beth Galetti said in a blog post Wednesday.
The Seattle-based company is requiring employees to stay home and seek medical attention if they are feeling ill — one of several preventive measures it has taken in response to the coronavirus outbreak, now a global pandemic. Amazon provides health insurance to all employees, including the hourly workers in its vast network of warehouses.
Amazon also announced a $25 million fund for independent delivery contractors, Amazon Flex drivers and seasonal employees. “We will be offering all of these groups the ability to apply for grants approximately equal to up to two-weeks of pay if diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine by the government or Amazon,” Galetti said. Grant amounts would range between $400 and $5,000, she said, adding that a website to handle applications would be made available in coming days.
The announcement comes after some of the hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees who staff its warehouses expressed concerns about the company’s sick leave policy. They watched as Amazon instructed employees at its offices in the Puget Sound and Bay Area who could work from home to do so through the end of the month. The company has since extended that directive to several other regions, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Madrid and Italy.
The hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees who gather, package and distribute Amazon orders — the bulk of the company’s 798,000-person global workforce — can’t do their jobs remotely. Meanwhile, demand for their labor has increased as more people turn to online shopping amid the coronavirus pandemic.
One local Amazon employee said fulfillment center employees have been asked to work overtime on short notice in recent days.
This employee, who requested anonymity, said fulfillment center workers worried they would be forced to choose between not being paid and working when sick because they need the money. Others with high-risk family members were concerned about becoming exposed to the virus at work and carrying it home with them, this employee said.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which communicates with Amazon fulfillment center employees across the country, said a lack of paid sick leave puts everyone at further risk.
“Working people, who often live paycheck to paycheck, are going to feel compelled to come to work to support themselves or their families, even if they may be sick,” he said.
Unions have called for companies and lawmakers to implement paid sick leave, and several have done so, including major Amazon competitor Walmart, as well as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Darden Restaurants.
Galetti praised the response of Amazon’s workforce. “People are supporting one another, taking care of themselves and others while also doing what we do best, which is serving customers,” she said.
Amazon previously told its hourly employees they would not be penalized for taking unpaid time off through the end of March — a change from its usual policy that penalizes them for missing a work shift, even if they call in sick.
The company has also temporarily suspended public tours of its fulfillment centers. It has increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all facilities, and requires employees to sanitize and clean work stations and vehicles at the start and end of each shift.
Amazon confirmed last week that one employee in Seattle had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Two employees in Italy also tested positive.