Amazon cuts paid COVID leave for employees in half

Amazon, the second-largest employer in the US, announced today that it will cut its paid leave policy for quarantined employees by half. The policy, introduced in March 2020, previously provided for a maximum of 14 days of paid leave; the new policy covers a week or a maximum of 40 hours.

“Over the past two years, we have consistently based our response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the advice of our own medical experts,” the message reads to employees. It further states that the 40-hour or week-long paid leave policy will take effect “immediately” and “apply to all employees in the United States, regardless of vaccination status.”

The shift reflects the CDC’s updated — and widely unpopular — isolation guidelines, which it published Dec. 27, as well as the decision by Walmart, the largest U.S. employer, to reduce its own paid pandemic sick leave policy last Wednesday. Obviously, other companies are likely to follow.

Amazon recently reinstated its masking policy for on-site workers. That requirement, along with mandatory temperature checks, was introduced last year around the same time as the original two-week leave policy, then was reversed in May for fully vaccinated workers.

While Amazon has often been criticized for its uniquely poor treatment of its workforce, in this case it only follows federal guidelines and looks after its own financial interests above all other priorities. What the erosion of paid leave policies means for the country’s two largest employers is a reversal of the benefits and protections many of us have come to rely on to get through this ongoing pandemic.

Earlier this week, the expiration of a White House deal with retailers mandating at-home COVID testing is selling for an affordable $14, predictably leading to those same tests nearly doubling in price at Walmart and Kroger. Some policies, such as pandemic unemployment benefits, have already ended, while key safeguards, such as the New York eviction moratorium, are set to expire soon. Meanwhile, the US continues to struggle with record numbers of positive cases.

Amazon is right that the CDC has changed what it believes is the necessary isolation length for positive testing individuals. But that negates the fact that not long ago Amazon and Walmart offered hazard premiums to employees for the exact same risks that currently exist in their workplaces. Incidentally, that policy was quickly reversed.

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