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Amazon CEO Andy Jassy says the company's COVID-19 paid leave policy 'didn't work the way we wanted it to work'

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Amazon CEO Andy Jassy motions with his hands on stage at a conference.
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy formerly built the company's cloud platform. Reuters/ Mike Blake
  • Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said the company's COVID-19 paid leave policy fell short, CNBC reported.

  • Amazon had promised two weeks' sick pay to workers with positive tests or quarantine orders.

  • But workers have accused Amazon of failing to pay and even threatening to discipline them.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said Tuesday that the company's COVID-19 sick pay policy fell short and that it could do more overall to treat workers better, CNBC reported.

With a 1.2 million-person workforce like Amazon has, "it's almost like a small country," Jassy said at the GeekWire Summit, according to CNBC, adding that "there are lots of things you could do better."

When pressed for specifics, Jassy cited the paid sick leave policy Amazon implemented in March 2020, which guaranteed up to two weeks of paid sick leave to employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or ordered by public health officials to quarantine. Amazon also initially said it would let full- and part-time employees take unlimited unpaid sick leave, but rolled back that policy in May 2020.

"We never anticipated having a pandemic or having demand like that. It didn't work the way we wanted it to work," Jassy said, according to CNBC.

The World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, several hours before Amazon announced its paid sick leave policy.

Yet multiple Amazon employees said the company failed to pay them or underpaid them despite meeting the eligibility requirements for its paid sick leave policy, CNBC reported in April 2020.

Amid the surge in workers requesting paid time off under Amazon's COVID-19 policy, the company's highly automated human resources systems also erroneously denied workers' requests and even threatened them with terimination for missing work, Bloomberg reported in June 2020.

"During the pandemic in our fulfillment centers, we had a system and a process around people being able to request short and long term leave and the process just didn't scale," Jassy said Tuesday, according to CNBC.

Amazon said in October that 19,000 of its "frontline" employees had tested positive for COVID-19, though infectious disease experts told Bloomberg the study was flawed and lacked key data.

Amazon employees and contractors have increasingly spoken out about hazardous working conditions - already a a concern before COVID-19 - during the pandemic, accusing the company of failing to sufficiently protect its workers, especially workers of color.

The company has also been accused by employees and labor regulators of retaliating against whistleblowers who have attempted to draw attention to the risks facing workers, and recently settled with two such whistleblowers, avoiding a trial that could have exposed more details about its labor practices.

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