The world’s biggest online retailer, deemed an essential business amid the global coronavirus pandemic that has turned online shopping into a mode of survival for millions, has been telling its warehouse workers that if they fail to follow social distancing rules they could face disciplinary action.
The first violation will result in a written warning, and if employees are caught a second time, they could get fired, according to media reports.
While the actions are focused on those who “intentionally” ignore the rules, the efforts emphasize Amazon’s unenviable balancing act between remaining open for business and fulfilling the needs of millions of home-bound consumers and looking after the health and safety of its thousands of essential warehouse employees - who at the same time need and want to work.
That balance is increasingly tenuous as the coronavirus floats through Amazon’s on-the-ground operations. Some 50 Amazon warehouses in the U.S. have confirmed one or more employees have tested positive for coronavirus. Workers at Amazon warehouses in New York, Chicago and Detroit have held walkouts in protest of working conditions during the pandemic.
For its part, Amazon has continued to proactively respond to both internal and external concerns and complaints. In a blog post, Amazon reiterated that the health and safety of employees is “our top concern” and that it has made over 150 “process updates” - code for changes in how it moves goods around its warehouses - “… to help protect employees.”
All that in addition to implementing “enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures,” including putting tape down on the floor to advise workers on where they can stand safely, as well as reconfiguring cafeterias so that workers don’t sit next to one another.
On top of the social distancing rules, Amazon has said it has also instituted temperature checks at its facilities, has supplied workers with face masks and taken additional steps to increase cleaning at its facilities by providing workers with sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
Still, the balancing act the company continues to play in keeping goods moving to consumers and keeping the people who make those goods move to consumers safe and virus-free continues to pose a massive challenge - both to Amazon and to its workers, who in many cases feel they have no choice but to continue to work during a time where millions of Americans are sitting idle without any income.
“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” said Chris Smalls, a fired worker who organized a walk-out protest in light of what he said were unsafe working conditions, in a statement last week.
“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk,” Amazon responded in its own statement.