Amazon, the second-largest US employer, announced today that it would halve its paid leave policies for workers forced into quarantine. The policy, instituted in March 2020, previously provided for 14 days paid leave; the new policy covers a week or up to 40 hours.
“Over the past two years, we’ve consistently based our response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the advice of our own medical experts,” says the notice to workers. He goes on to say that the 40-hour or one-week paid leave policy is effective “immediately” and “applies to all employees in the United States, regardless of vaccination status.”
The change reflects the CDC’s – and largely unpopular – update isolation orientation, which published on Dec. 27, as well as the decision by Walmart, the largest US employer, to reduce their own paid pandemic sick leave policies last Wednesday. Of course, other companies will likely follow suit.
Amazon recently reinstated its mask policy for onsite workers. That requirement, along with mandatory temperature checks, was implemented around the same time as the original two-week leave policy last year and was later reverted to fully vaccinated workers in May.
While Amazon has often been criticized for its exceptionally poor treatment of its staff, in this case it’s just following federal guidance and looking out for its own financial interests above all other priorities. Rather, what represents the erosion of paid leave policies for the country’s two largest employers is the reversal of the benefits and protections many of us rely on to persevere in this ongoing pandemic.
Earlier this week, the expiration of a White House deal with retailers requiring that COVID in-home tests be sold for an affordable $14 has predictably led to these same tests. almost doubling in price at Walmart and Kroger. Some policies, such as pandemic unemployment benefits, have It’s over, while key safeguards, such as the New York eviction moratorium, are scheduled to expire soon. Meanwhile, the US is still experimenting record numbers of positive cases.
Amazon is right that the CDC has altered what it believes to be the isolation period required for individuals who test positive. But this eliminates the fact that Amazon and Walmart were, not long ago, offering workers hazard pay for facing exactly the same risks that currently exist in their workplaces. In fact, these policies were reversed quickly also.
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