Amazon scraps new ban on phones in warehouses 'until further notice'

Deadly tornados may have led Amazon to reconsider its plans.

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Amazon is loosening its control of workers' activities as safety concerns mount. The internet retailer has confirmed to Bloomberg that it will back off a rejuvenated effort to ban personal phones in warehouses. Staff were told on December 17th they could keep their phones at hand "until further notice."

The company banned phones in warehouses for years, but eased its approach as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The ban was poised to resume in January 2022.

While Amazon didn't explain the decision, it comes just after a tornado struck a warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, killing six people. It also follows a surge in COVID-19 cases. Warehouse employees have demanded access to their phones both for safety alerts and to stay in touch in the event of emergencies. A reinstituted ban would have appeared tone deaf, particularly in light of an incident where a dispatcher pressured a driver to keep delivering packages while a tornado rampaged through the Edwardsville area.

Companies are allowed to ban phone use on the clock, whether it's to improve safety or prevent staff from leaking sensitive information. That stance is changing as smartphones become an important part of daily life, though, and the combination of Amazon's poor safety reputation with recent incidents may leave the company little room to reimpose a ban — not without significant public pushback.