Amazon cuts paid COVID leave in half

Amazon, the second largest employer in the United States, announced today that it will slash its paid vacation policies for workers who have been forced into quarantine in half. The policy, which was put in place in March 2020, previously provided for up to 14 days of paid leave; The new document covers one week, or up to 40 hours.

The notice to workers reads: “Over the past two years, our response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic has consistently relied on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the advice of our medical experts.” He adds that the 40-hour or one-week paid leave policy takes effect “immediately” and “applies to all employees in the United States, regardless of vaccination status.”

The shift reflects updated — and not widely shared — isolation guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which it published on December 27, as well as a decision by Walmart, the largest US employer, to scale back its paid sick leave policies last Wednesday. It stands to reason that other companies are likely to follow suit.

Amazon recently reinstated its mask policy for site workers. That requirement, along with mandatory temperature checks, was put in place around the same time as the original two-week leave policy last year, and was later rescinded for workers who were fully vaccinated in May.

While Amazon has often been criticized for its uniquely poor treatment of its employees, in this case it is following federal guidelines and placing its own financial interests above all other priorities. Instead, what the erosion of the paid leave policies of the nation’s two largest employers represents is a rollback of the benefits and protections so many of us rely on to persevere during this ongoing pandemic.

Earlier this week, the expiration of the White House deal with retailers mandating in-home COVID tests for an affordable $14 sold, as expected, to those same tests that nearly doubled in price at Walmart and Kroger. Some policies, such as pandemic unemployment benefits, have already expired, while major safeguards, such as a moratorium on evictions in New York, are set to expire soon. Meanwhile, the US continues to see record numbers of positive cases.

Amazon is correct that the CDC has changed what it believes is the necessary length of isolation for individuals who test positive. But that rules out the fact that Amazon and Walmart were, not too long ago, offering a hazard pay to workers to take on the same risks that currently exist in their workplaces. Incidentally, these policies were quickly rolled back as well.

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