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Amazon To Change Time-Off Policy During Pandemic, Extend Pay Bump

Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse stage a protest on March 30.
Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse stage a protest on March 30.

Amazon warehouse employees had been able to take unlimited unpaid time off during the coronavirus pandemic. But starting May 1, Amazon will instead ask workers who want to stay home to use their regular accrued time off or request a leave of absence.

Amazon was one of the few companies to extend unlimited, though unpaid, time off to its workers who are declared essential during the health crisis. But the retailer announced changes to that policy on Friday, raising alarm among some workers who worry about having less flexibility.

Amazon on Friday also said it would extend through May 16 its pay bump of $2 an hour and double overtime, which had previously applied through April. The company offers up to two weeks of paid leave to staff who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are " presumptively positive."

Warehouse workers, some of whom have been staging strikes at several facilities around the country, say they worry the loss of the unlimited unpaid time off would force them to choose between safeguarding their own and their family's health and potentially losing their jobs.

Amazon on Friday said its unpaid leave of absence policy will "cover COVID-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures." In an email to NPR, a company spokeswoman said the policy would apply to workers whose family members are at high risk.

"We continue to see heavy demand during this difficult time and the team is doing incredible work for our customers and the community," Amazon said in its blog post on Friday.

Earlier this month, the company announced it would keep hiring more warehouse and delivery workers, filling up to 175,000 new jobs, to keep up with skyrocketing demand as the nation turns to online shopping during the coronavirus quarantines.

Meanwhile, some Amazon employees have been staging protests, demanding more paid leave options, calling for the closure of warehouses with a growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and criticizing the company for its recent firing of several activist workers.

The company says those workers broke rules, that the protests have been small and that accusations of lax safety measures are "unfounded."

"I've already been going back and forth with Amazon for weeks about approving a paid leave of absence," warehouse worker Billie Jo Ramey from Michigan said in a statement on Friday, through Amazon-worker advocacy coalition Athena. "My doctor gave me a note to quarantine because I'm high risk and I have an autoimmune disease. Amazon is forcing me to choose between my life and my job."

Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters.

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