Nearly two weeks after the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention updated their covid-19 isolation and quarantine guidelines — a decision some experts called “reckless and dangerous” — the nation’s second-largest private employer has decided that a change was necessary for their pandemic response policies, as well.
In a notice to U.S. workers on Friday, which the company provided to Gizmodo on Saturday, Amazon told employees that it would be reducing the paid leave it provides to people who test positive for covid-19 and those who are exposed to someone with the virus after reviewing the CDC’s new guidance. The company’s quarantine and isolation periods are now one week — seven calendar days — long, during which workers will be provided with up to 40 hours of paid leave.
The notice did not mention a negative covid-19 test in order to return to work. We’ve reached out to Amazon to clarify whether this will be required.
Amazon previously provided workers with 10 days of paid leave. In fact, when the covid-19 paid leave policy was put into place in 2020, the company originally provided workers with up to 14 days off. The most recent notice was reported by the Wall Street Journal and Engadget.
According to the notice, the new policy will go into effect “immediately” and applies to all employees in the U.S. regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated. Nonetheless, Amazon said that “additional leave options” are available to workers who still have covid-19 after one week.
“As we have throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to work closely with public health authorities and our own medical experts to determine the most effective ways to keep our employees and our communities safe,” the company told Gizmodo. “We continue to believe that the best way to protect our employees and communities from COVID-19 is through vaccinations.”
Amazon added that it had hosted more than 1,800 free on-site vaccination events across its facilities in the U.S.
The policy is in line with new CDC guidance issued in late December stating that people with covid-19 need to isolate for only five days if they’re asymptomatic. Those who have been exposed to covid-19 must only quarantine for five days, the agency said. The new guidance has been heavily criticised by experts in recent days for “confusing the public” and for not requiring people to test negative in order to leave isolation and quarantine, the latter of which could increase transmission of the virus.
This is yet another notable change in Amazon’s covid-19 response and policies for workers in recent weeks. In December, in light of a surge in infections in the U.S. linked to the newest omicron variant, it required its warehouse workers to mask up again even if they were vaccinated.
Amazon’s announcement came days after Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, also cut its paid sick leave from two weeks to one week for people with covid-19 or those who have to quarantine because of exposure. Individuals who remain sick after their paid leave ends can potentially receive “additional covid-related pay for up to 26 weeks,” Reuters reported.
The decisions by Amazon and Walmart may open the floodgates and inspire other employers to institute similar policies. While the economy is certainly important, a widespread change in policies may force workers to make a difficult choice: Go into work sick or don’t get paid. In the end, though, refusing to support workers that are sick or possibly sick and letting the virus spread could cost us all more in the long run.
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.