Amazon says workers could be fired for violating social distancing rules

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A woman works in a distrubiton station at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon distribution center in Staten Island, New York, February 5, 2019.

Johannes EIsele | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon is cracking down on social distancing violations in its facilities.

The company has started telling warehouse workers in recent days that if they don’t follow social distancing rules, they could be subject to disciplinary action, according to a document obtained by CNBC. The first violation will result in a written warning, and if the employees are caught a second time, they may be terminated.

Amazon has ordered warehouse workers across the country to stay 6 feet from colleagues, among other protective measures, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The facilities that make up Amazon’s vast logistics network vary in size and staff depending on their function. Some distribution centers are the size of 26 football fields and employ thousands of workers, making it difficult for Amazon to guarantee social distancing rules.

Amazon recently started to inform employees that they could be subject to disciplinary action if they violate the rules of social distancing.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that employees who “intentionally violate” the social distancing rules will receive two warnings and, for the second documented violation, “a dismissal could occur”.

“We have had cases where employees intentionally violated our clear guidelines on social distance at our sites, which endangers the individual and his colleagues,” said the spokesperson. “We are taking intense measures to ensure the health and safety of the employees of our sites who play a vital role in their communities during this crisis. “

It is not clear whether disciplinary action is taken against all employees in the warehouse or how Amazon identifies employees who have broken the rules. In a blog post published last week, Dave Clark, who runs Amazon’s retail operations, said the company would use its “best machine learning technologists” to spot areas where it could improve social distancing in its facilities relying on internal camera systems.

Three Amazon warehouse workers who requested anonymity said site management told them that their facilities would identify the individuals because they saw them breaking the rules, as well as by examining the camera images . The workers also expressed concern that the policy would be unfairly applied to floor associates and not to site management.

A Michigan facility worker said he noticed several managers who appeared to be flouting the rules by “huddling around the clock.” They added that they knew several associates in their establishment who had been warned not to follow the rules of social distancing.

An Illinois facility worker said he appreciates Amazon’s efforts to make sure employees follow social distancing rules. They said their establishment had taped the floor to alert workers to where they could safely stay, as well as reconfigured the cafeterias so workers did not sit side by side, between other steps.

“It was very difficult to get into people’s heads because they have to respect that,” said the worker. “People were really not very careful. But we don’t want anyone to do anything dangerous. “

In addition to the social distancing rules, Amazon said it has implemented temperature controls in its facilities. It has also provided workers with face masks and taken steps to intensify cleaning of its facilities by providing workers with disinfectant and disinfectant wipes, the company said.

However, Amazon employees who spoke to CNBC say these efforts are not enough to keep them safe. Workers at Amazon facilities in New York and Michigan held protests last week demanding that the company close its warehouses after reporting confirmed cases of coronavirus.

An Indiana facility worker said he believed it was unfair to Amazon to discipline employees who violate the rules of social distancing. Instead, they said Amazon should help employees get tested for the virus.

“We no longer feel safe in our building. I’m frustrated with it, “said the worker. “If they have to do everything in their power to keep us safe, I feel like they have to shut down the building for two weeks so that they can actually be cleaned up. “

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