Amazon may fire employees who violate social distancing guidelines, even as workers say the company isn't doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A worker in a face mask walks by trucks parked at an Amazon facility as the global coronavirus outbreak continued in Bethpage on Long Island in New York, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

  • Amazon said it may fire employees who "intentionally violate" its social distancing rules at work, as first reported by CNBC and confirmed to Business Insider.
  • The policy comes amid criticism over Amazon's efforts to protect workers at its warehouses, as well as the company's firing of a worker after he led a strike in protest of Amazon's coronavirus response.
  • Amazon told Business Insider it is following public health guidelines and has "implemented a series of preventative health measures for employees, delivery and transportation partners at our sites around the world."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Amazon has told employees at its warehouses that they could be fired for violating social distancing rules at work, as first reported by CNBC and confirmed to Business Insider by an Amazon spokesperson.

"We've had some instances of employees intentionally violating our clear guidelines on social distancing at our sites, which endangers both the individual and their colleagues," Amazon spokesperson Timothy Carter told Business Insider. "Individuals who intentionally violate our social distancing guidelines will receive two warnings - on the second documented offense, termination may occur," Advertisement

Amazon said it has staggered shift times and added distance between delivery drivers and customers, among other measures, to ensure social distancing at its facilities.

However, employees have told Business Insider that such social distancing is "impossible" in practice, and that the company's adjustments are insufficient to protect them from the coronavirus. Workers have said they're afraid to go to work, calling the facilities - many of which typically employ thousands of workers - a "breeding ground" for the virus.

Over the past several weeks, warehouse workers in New York, Chicago, and Italy have organized walkouts in protest of the company's health and safety practices. Employees want Amazon to shut down facilities for extra cleaning after colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19, and are asking the company to offer paid time off for workers while it does so.

Amazon recently fired a warehouse employee in New York who helped lead a strike to protest of the company's coronavirus response. The company says it fired him not for his involvement in the protest, but for violating a self-quarantine order imposed after Amazon learned he had come into contact with a coworker who had tested positive for COVID-19.

New York City's human rights commissioner has since opened an investigation into the incident, after a leaked memo showed top Amazon executives discussing efforts to mount a PR campaign against the worker in an attempt to make him "the face of the entire union/organizing movement."Amazon last month announced that it would offer paid sick leave to anyone diagnosed with COVID-19. With limited tests available, though, workers who are sick but unable to confirm that they have the disease told Buzzfeed they're still being sent home without pay.Advertisement

Amazon also told Business Insider it is offering unlimited unpaid time off to hourly workers through the end of April, but that has put workers who can't afford to take unpaid leave in a tough position.

"It's leaving us to choose our health or our finances," one Amazon worker from Houston who wished to remain anonymous told Business Insider. "Everybody looks scared, but we can't afford not to go to work."

Amazon has been trying to balance the safety of its workers with increased demand for its services as coronavirus lockdowns worldwide fuel a surge in online shopping. The company has said it will hire as many as 100,000 workers in an attempt to keep up with that demand.Advertisement

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