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Following outcry, Amazon is now providing some pay to employees sent home with fevers during the coronavirus pandemic, the company confirmed to BuzzFeed News Tuesday.
Last week, an Amazon spokesperson said that employees sent home with fevers were "welcome to use paid and unpaid time off options.” After BuzzFeed News reported last Thursday that some employees with fevers were being sent home without pay, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders posted on Facebook Friday calling on the company to change its policy, saying, “Jeff Bezos, the single richest man in the world, can damn well afford to guarantee paid sick leave to all of his workers.”
The new policy, according to a spokesperson for Amazon, is that “if an employee has a fever they will be sent home and will be paid up to five hours of their scheduled shift that day.”
Amazon instituted fever screenings last week in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, through its fulfillment centers and delivery stations, which have been deemed essential and remain open during the pandemic. As traditional retail stores remain closed and more and more Americans avoid the grocery store, demand for Amazon deliveries has surged, and with it, growing fears that the virus could spread among its employees. “Implementing daily temperature screenings in our operations sites is an additional preventative measure Amazon is taking to support the health and safety of our customers and employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities,” the Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.
A human resources employee at an Amazon facility in the Midwest told BuzzFeed News that she was instructed in a meeting on Monday to authorize up to three days' worth of “non-working paid time” for employees who show up at work with fevers above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
But human resources staff elsewhere received written instructions on Friday saying “an associate who is sent home for a fever at or above 100.4°F / 38.0°C degrees is paid for their scheduled shift that day, up to five hours maximum.”
“During that time,” the instructions continue, “they can use paid time off (if available) and may be eligible to take leaves of absence as appropriate.”
Amazon declined to comment on whether staff at some facilities were instructed to give more than five hours of pay to employees sent home with fevers.
“No one is on the same page it seems,” said a Pennsylvania-based Amazon employee who’s been in contact with Amazon human resources locally.
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Despite the new policy, some employees still haven’t been paid. An Amazon employee at the Staten Island facility who was sent home with a fever told BuzzFeed News that her paycheck last week did not include paid time off even though she had missed work after being ordered to self-isolate by a doctor. She opened a case with Amazon human resources last week but hadn’t heard back as of Monday afternoon. Other employees awaiting some type of payment reported similar delays.
When Amazon warehouse associates report to work, they must wait in line 6 feet apart to have their temperatures taken at so-called fever stations. These are operated by Amazon employees in some facilities and by third-party contractors in others; temperature testers stand behind a piece of plexiglass that separates them from employees being screened. Employees are also being asked to bring masks from home or wear those provided by Amazon, if available.
Despite these measures, many Amazon employees and labor advocates say they fear the company isn’t taking stringent enough measures to protect them from the coronavirus. The World Health Organization says that infected people can be asymptomatic but contagious — and able to infect other people — for up to 14 days before symptoms appear.
Employees in New York walked off the job in protest of Amazon’s refusal to close the warehouse for sanitation for the third time on Monday, while employees in Chicago held their fourth walkout over the weekend.
Amazon has said that it’s taking “extreme measures” to protect workers such as staggering shifts and rearranging break rooms to encourage social distancing, providing masks, and conducting “enhanced cleaning.” So far, all of its facilities except one shuttered by health officials in Kentucky remain open for business.