Sens. Sanders and Warren urge investigation into Amazon's 'no-fault' attendance policy

The lawmakers believe Amazon could be illegally terminating or penalizing workers for taking time off.

Workers push hand trucks on the incoming goods floor during operations at Amazon's Robbinsville fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, U.S., November 29, 2021. Picture taken November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Segar (Mike Segar / reuters)

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) want regulators to take a closer look at Amazon’s points-based attendance policy, which they believe may be punishing workers for taking legally protected time off. First reported by Vice, the letter to the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission focuses on Amazon’s “no-fault” approach to absences, which adds points every time an employee misses work without giving advance notice, regardless of the reason. If workers reach a certain number of points, they are automatically reviewed for termination.

Under the company’s attendance policy, an employee whose child has suddenly fallen ill or who suffers a medical emergency would still be penalized. Employees who don’t report absences at least 16 hours before the start of shift receive two points on their record. If they give notice less than two hours before a shift, they receive two points and an “absence submission infraction”. If workers receive three absence submission infractions and eight attendance points, Amazon will consider firing them.

Lawmakers believe that Amazon’s attendance policy could violate current laws that allow workers to take sick, family, medical and pregnancy leave. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees eligible workers unpaid leave for a variety of circumstances, including pregnancy or the need to take care of a sick family member.

“We field numerous calls from Amazon employees; while many workers know about Amazon’s punitive attendance policies, they describe never receiving information about the federal, state, and local laws that entitle them to legally protected time off—much less understanding how such laws apply in practice in their own lives,” noted labor rights group Better Balance in a letter to Congress.

Other companies with "no-fault" attendance policies have run into legal troubles in the past. Back in 2011, Verizon was ordered to pay $20 million after the EEOC found that the company's no-fault attendance policy made no exceptions for disabled workers.

Many warehouse workers have complained that Amazon neglected to inform them of their rights under FMLA or disability laws. The company has had a poor track record with how it treats workers at its many warehouses and fulfillment centers. A number of warehouses, in response to poor working conditions at the e-commerce giant, are currently pushing to unionize.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that workers don't have to give advance notice under FMLA. In fact, this only applies to unforeseeable circumstances. For non-emergency events, workers are asked to provide at least 30 days notice.