Is Amazon purposely giving employees Covid and then charging them a ‘processing fee’ to return to work? It’s a question worthy of a class action lawyer. Even if it’s just a matter of happenstance, how can a company be doing this to their employees?
The scheme seems to work like this. The local Amazon facility cites network volume to call a Mandatory Extra Time (MET) day. This is a situation where they apparently get an exemption from normal overtime rules to force employees into working over 40 hours a week. Sometimes the MET isn’t actually necessary, and employees stand around in a large group waiting for an assignment at a place called, appropriately enough, ‘standup’. Many only have the cheap paper masks provided upon entry to the facility; the kind that fall down when talking. So employees are standing around in a large group with nothing to do in a loud facility where Covid cases are reported everyday; they get to talking and their masks slip off their faces. Undoubtedly Covid gets spread around.
Amazon does not have sick leave, and there’s no one to talk to about taking a few days off. Instead they have scant amounts of personal time off handled through an app. If am employee gets sick and thinks they have Covid, they can apply for an accommodation of leave pending a positive test result. Tests often take a few days to get, and if it’s not Covid there’s no leave given, personal time must be used. If the employee does have Covid, they are taken off the schedule and stop accruing benefits while on a one-week leave. There’s a questionnaire to answer before returning to work.
This is where the situation gets interesting and the employee may face a flimflam. If the questionnaire isn’t available online or the employee answered once and didn’t pass, they are given instructions to call one of two ‘resource centers’. Calling the ‘Employee Resource Center’ often means being informed the wait is over two hours to talk to someone; the alternative is to use the app to create an HR case or call a ‘Covid Resource Center’ to return to work. Upon calling this second number, there’s a transfer to a call center in India where ‘Steve’ or ‘Rick’, speaking with an ESL accent, verify the employee’s information. After this hurdle, they matter-of-factly ask for a “card number” for further proof of identification. If the employee refuses to give credit card information over the phone, the bullying starts.
Of course, there’s no reason for Amazon or any employer to need a credit card number for identification. Credit card companies warn of such scams and typically say not to give card information to anyone over the phone. The agent could simply write it down and sell it. Upon informing this ‘Covid Resource Center’ of that, they say that they can’t help until they have your credit card information; even admitting, once pushed, that they need to charge a processing fee to your card before they can do anything to get you back on the schedule. Based on information on Reddit and other online message boards, people have been charged these fees unexpectedly or have waited weeks to be put back on the schedule after being out for Covid.
There’s no one to talk to about this in person or over the phone at the facility where the employee works. Everything is handled through the phone app or by calling someone who doesn’t know you personally on a ‘customer service’ style line with long waits. It’s a strange way to do business — completely impersonal — and in this case it happens while recovering from Covid gotten at their facility. Often times, when people get put back on schedule after weeks of not working, they receive no notification and end up being fired for not showing up for work.
It all seems strange and counter productive until a realization sets in. Amazon gets tax breaks for locating in certain areas, and some of these tax breaks are connected to the number of jobs created. Every time an employee goes on leave or gets terminated or quits because of being treated so impersonally, the company has another possible chance to create a ‘new’ job and get another tax break. They seem to be suckering a lot of people.
Is this happening on purpose? Is it a scheme someone cooked up or is it the result of poor systems management? Does it even matter? The experience of the employee is the same either way. With all the stressors of the pandemic, this is just one more to add to the cauldron. Better the devil to let go.