Warren, Sanders Demand Investigation into Amazon’s Attendance Policy

The call for an investigation follows findings that Amazon could be illegally punishing and terminating employees for taking legally protected time off. 

On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and other members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Thursday to demand an investigation into Amazon’s attendance points policy, which they say could be illegally punishing and terminating employees for taking legally protected time off. 

Senators Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush also wrote the letter.

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They say Amazon’s ‘no fault’ attendance policy, one that punishes workers regardless of the reason for their absence, appears to have taken effect in October 2021, and could be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

“Amazon’s troubling attendance policy negatively impacts hundreds of thousands of Amazon workers and is also part of a larger corporate trend, making DOL and EEOC enforcement all the more important,” the report’s authors wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Motherboard. The Department of Labor enforces FMLA laws in the United States, while the EEOC oversees the ADA.  

Thursday’s letter cites a 2020 analysis by the legal advocacy group, A Better Balance, which found that Amazon warehouse workers are punished in two ways for missing work: attendance points or absence submission infractions, and that Amazon is failing to inform workers about their right to take leaves of absence. The report states that workers who accrue attendance points or absence submission infractions can be at risk of termination, regardless of the reason for their absence. 

According a Better Balance’s analysis, workers who don’t report absences “at least 2 hours before shift start,” receive two attendance points and an absence submission infraction, those who need to drop shifts less than 16 hours in advance receive two attendance points, and those who are late to work receive a single attendance point. Racking up three absence submission infractions and eight attendance points, the report says, can cause Amazon to consider terminating a worker’s employment. 

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The problem is Amazon’s policy doesn’t take into consideration federal, state, and local laws that guarantee workers’ right to take medical leave, the senators and representatives write. For example, the FMLA guarantees workers the right to take protected sick, family, and medical leave, pregnancy accommodations, and disability leave without advance notice. 

“If a worker’s child had a severe asthma attack the night before a shift, and the worker took the child to the emergency room, then, under the FMLA, Amazon cannot require the worker to leave the child to report the absence while the child is receiving emergency treatment,” the letter’s authors wrote. “Amazon’s policy, however, appears to punish this legally-protected right if it results in delayed notice of an absence.”

The letter goes on to accuse Amazon of not communicating with workers about their rights to take protected leave. “Amazon is clearly failing to inform workers of their right to take their protected leave,” the letter says. “It does not inform workers of what the ‘applicable law’ is, and how it applies to their situation, keeping workers in the dark about the existing protections to which they are entitled, and intimidating them from exercising these rights by threats of termination.”

Tina Pelkey, a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard, “These claims are inaccurate and we look forward to responding in full. Our policy is compliant with the law and employees are not penalized for taking legally protected time off. If employees have any questions about their individual circumstances, we encourage them to reach out to their managers or HR partners for assistance."

 In the letter, Senator Warren asks the agencies to conduct an investigation “expeditiously to ensure that workers at Amazon and other companies that maintain such cruel attendance policies are protected from abusive employers.” Warren asks that the agencies provide her office with a briefing on the DOL and EEOC authorities that can conduct an investigation by March 17. 

Tagged:

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, On the Clock

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