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Warehouse workers at Amazon said Wednesday they are struggling to get paid through the company’s sick leave policy.
One employee at a facility in Indiana told CNBC they feel like there’s “lots of hoops that workers have to jump through” in order to get paid while they’re in coronavirus quarantine. The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the issue has only added to workers’ frustrations around safety and transparency at their facilities.
“We do not feel safe in our building anymore,” the worker said. “And the pay we do get if we test positive is only 60 percent of our pay. Amazon is not taking care of us.”
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The anonymous employee, like other workers at Amazon, was forced to go into quarantine, either through fear of catching the coronavirus, experiencing symptoms, or learning they had been previously exposed to someone diagnosed.
Another Amazon employee, Sharlene, hoped to continue reporting to her job, as she needed to support herself and her family. After experiencing shortness of breath, however, she was rushed to the emergency room and immediately instructed to self-quarantine. Sharlene worried that her weak immune system, asthma and COPD would put her at risk if she tried to return to work.
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“I thought, if I catch the coronavirus and go on a respirator, there’s no way I’m going to make it off because of my health problems,” she said tearfully to CNBC. “I would not make it through it. I’m not strong enough.”
Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish told FOX Business on Wednesday that all Amazon employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine will receive up to two weeks of pay as part of the company’s sick leave policy.
“This additional pay while away from work is to ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost income,” she said. “This is in addition to unlimited unpaid time off for all hourly employees through the end of April.”
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In response to the concerns, she said Amazon is “working with employees to gather the information we need to approve extra time off with pay for quarantine and/or diagnosis of COVID.”
“Because we are continually revisiting policies to ensure the safety of our employees, going forward, this information may include self-report of patterns of symptoms and exposure, particularly when the employee cannot obtain medical certification at all,” Kish added.
In order to mitigate the spread of the virus at Amazon facilities, Kish said the company has implemented daily temperature screenings.
“If an employee has a fever, they are sent home and will be paid up to five hours of their scheduled shift,” she said.
The company also started piloting the use of disinfectant fog on Tuesday at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, according to a report by Reuters.
Warehouse workers looking for alternative options to get the pay they need have few options besides relying on savings or applying for unemployment to make up for the gap in income.
While Amazon workers, along with many employees around the country, are able to stay home from work longer as a result of the CARES Act, there are stipulations around who can and cannot qualify for the expanded unemployment benefits laid out in the bill. Those eligible to collect unemployment from their state get an extra $600 a week in benefits for up to four months.
Sharlene, who has been working with her site’s human resources department for the past three weeks to try to get the pay owed to her in quarantine, applied for unemployment on Tuesday after she grew frustrated with the delays and came close to running out of money.
“As it is right now, I don’t have a job,” Sharlene told CNBC. “I can’t risk my health and get a job in the grocery industry because not only am I risking my own life, but also the others around me. So the way I see it, I can’t work.”
Another worker at a facility in Michigan, who went into quarantine after showing symptoms of coronavirus, said she recently applied for unemployment after she didn’t receive a paycheck from Amazon.
Initially, she said an Amazon HR representative didn’t accept her doctor’s note as proof that she needed to be in quarantine, but after several calls, the representative agreed she should stay home. Since then, she said she has been unable to collect the pay promised to her by the company.
Amazon HR recommended she apply for a grant from Amazon’s $25 million relief fund, but as a full-time employee she didn’t qualify.
“It’s not even set up to include regular associates,” the worker said. “My money is dwindling down. I’m just waiting for my unemployment to kick in.”
In March, the U.S. economy lost 701,000 jobs due to the coronavirus, snapping a decade-long record of employment growth. In the week ending March 28, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims was 6,648,000, an increase of 3,341,000 from the previous week’s revised level.
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The concerns from Amazon employees come after 15 workers at the New York warehouse, known internally as JFK8, protested to demand the building’s closure following a case of the coronavirus that was reported among staff. An additional demonstration took place on Monday.
Amazon stock closed at $2,043 per share at the end of Wednesday’s trading session.
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