Amazon to impose new unpaid leave restrictions for warehouse workers starting May 1st

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Amazon is changing its unpaid leave policies starting next month, according to a report from Bloomberg. On May 1st, hourly employees — a vast majority of which are among the company’s 250,000 or so warehouse workers who cannot work from home — must request an unpaid leave of absence to continue staying home if they do not want to work out of fear for their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Amazon’s hourly workers in its fulfillment centers and warehouses have been able to stay home without pay and retain their jobs. For those who were reporting to work and became sick, or who came into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, Amazon has been offering two weeks of paid time off.

“If any team members are unable or unwilling to work a scheduled shift, they can use unlimited unpaid time off through the month of April without penalty, and we are supportive if someone chooses to stay home,” reads Amazon’s original March blog post outlining its worker safety measures.

Amazon now says employees must start reporting to work or request leave, and the requirements for leave include having an existing health condition or living with someone who does, the logic being such individuals are high-risk for complications due to COVID-19. Everyone else will need to report to work, according to Bloomberg.

It is unclear if workers who are not eligible for such leave but who choose to not show up for work anyway will be subject to termination. The policy will, however, apply to both part-time and full-time workers, Bloomberg reports. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company also said back in March it would be increasing its hourly wages by $2 per hour for workers in Canada, the UK, the US, and various parts of Europe. That bumped pay for hourly employees from the minimum of $15 an hour the company set back in October 2018 up to $17. Earlier today, Amazon announced an extension on that temporary pay increase from the end of April to May 16th. The company says the cost of its pay increases is estimated to be $700 million.

“We’ve extended the increased hourly pay outlined below through May 16. We are also extending double overtime pay in the U.S. and Canada. These extensions increase our total investment in pay during COVID-19 to nearly $700 million for our hourly employees and partners,” reads an update to Amazon’s blog post on worker safety measures it published today.

“In addition, we are providing flexibility with leave of absence options, including expanding the policy to cover COVID-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures,” the update goes on to say. “We continue to see heavy demand during this difficult time and the team is doing incredible work for our customers and the community.”

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