The politics of sick leave
Paid and unpaid sick leave policies are facing wide scrutiny amid reports of infections and deaths among retail, warehouse, factory and delivery workers.
For employers, generous sick leave policies may be open to abuse even as greater protections are being demanded by workers for the new risks they are facing.
Many retailers have recently rolled out emergency measures that have extended paid sick leave time to 14 days — the period public health officials recommend for quarantine when someone tests positive for COVID-19. Legislative action, unions and worker concerns were among the factors driving the measures.
In order to claim paid sick leave, however, employees in many cases have to test positive for COVID-19, a challenge given the continued lack of widespread testing. Employers sometimes require a doctor’s note for individuals who say they are forced to self-quarantine because a household member tested positive. Some chains are now allowing paid sick leave if symptoms are evident, although those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Critics charge that possibly-infected workers may be showing up for a paycheck due to the challenges of getting testing and proving symptoms. Part-time workers also often aren’t eligible for paid sick leave.
Amazon.com in March became one of the few companies to offer unlimited, though unpaid, time off to hourly workers. On Friday, however, Amazon announced that starting May 1, it will instead ask workers who want to stay home to use their regular accrued time off or request a leave of absence.
The change follows reports of high rates of absence at Amazon’s warehouse due to worker concerns.
Amazon’s absence policy will still “cover COVID-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures.” But warehouse workers quickly expressed concern that the loss of the unlimited unpaid time off will force them to choose between protecting their own and their family’s lives or their livelihood.
An Amazon warehouse employee told Business Insider, “I think it means they want people who don’t want to come to work to start quitting.”
- Essential But Unprotected: Most Service Sector Workers Lack Paid Sick Leave Amid COVID-19 Pandemic – Shift Project
- Essential and Vulnerable: Service-Sector Workers and Paid Sick Leave – Shift Project
- Whole Foods, Instacart and Amazon workers How we’re taking care of employees during COVID-19 – Amazon.com
- Despite The New Coronavirus Law, Workers At These Big Companies Say They Still Must Work Sick Or Lose Pay – Buzzfeed
- Amazon to impose new unpaid leave restrictions for warehouse workers starting May 1st – The Verge
- Amazon To Change Time-Off Policy During Pandemic, Extend Pay Bump – NPR
- Gaps in Amazon’s Response as Virus Spreads to More Than 50 Warehouses – The New York Times
- Amazon set to end ‘unlimited unpaid time off’ policy – Business Insider
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more benefits in lenient versus strict paid leave policies amid the coronavirus pandemic? What steps could retailers take to limit employee abuse of paid and unpaid leave?