Amazon cuts paid COVID-19 leave for workers in half

Pandemic benefits are sunsetting everywhere.

Brendan McDermid / reuters

Amazon, the second-largest employer in the US, announced today that it would be slashing its paid leave policies for workers forced to quarantine in half. The policy, instituted in March of 2020, previously provided for up to 14 days of paid leave; the new policy covers one week, or up to 40 hours.

"Throughout the past two years we have consistently based our response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the advice of our own medical experts," the notice to workers reads. It goes on to state that the 40-hour or one week paid leave policy goes into effect "immediately" and "applies to all employees in the United States, regardless of vaccination status."

The shift mirrors the CDC's updated — and broadly unpopular — isolation guidance, which it published on December 27, as well as the decision by Walmart, the largest US employer, to reduce its own paid pandemic sick leave policies this past Wednesday. It stands to reason that other companies are likely to follow suit.

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

While Amazon has often been criticized for its uniquely poor treatment of its staff, in this case it's merely following federal guidance and looking out for its own financial interests above all other priorities. Instead, what the erosion of the paid leave policies for the country's two largest employers represents is the rolling back of the benefits and protections many of us have come to rely on to persevere through this ongoing pandemic.

Earlier this week, the expiration of a White House deal with retailers mandating at-home COVID tests be sold for an affordable $14 led, predictably, to those same tests nearly doubling in price at Walmart and Kroger. Some policies, like pandemic unemployment benefits, have already ended, while key safeguards, like New York's eviction moratorium, are slated to expire soon. Meanwhile, the US is still experiencing record-setting numbers of positive cases.

Amazon is correct that the CDC altered what it believes to be the necessary length of isolation for positive-testing individuals. But that elides the fact that Amazon and Walmart were, not long ago, offering hazard pay to workers for facing the exact same risks that currently exist in their workplaces. Incidentally, those policies were rolled back quickly as well.

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