By Dana Mattioli 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (March 12, 2020).

Amazon.com Inc. is offering paid sick leave to all workers -- including part-time warehouse staff -- who are affected by the spreading novel coronavirus, as companies scramble to minimize the economic hardship of the pandemic on their employees.

Amazon announced the expanded policy on Wednesday and said it has set up a relief fund, with an initial $25 million for its delivery partners, drivers and some others affected by the outbreak. The Wall Street Journal previously reported on the initiative.

Last week, the company eased its policy for unpaid time off in response to the coronavirus outbreak, giving workers the option to take an unlimited amount of unpaid time off through the end of March without being penalized for it. The change affected employees who work in offices, stores, warehouses and any other location that requires a physical presence.

As the virus, known as Covid-19, spreads, technology companies, retailers and ride-hailing companies have had to grapple with how to protect their employees while still providing the services customers need, especially at a time when some people are avoiding shopping in stores and taking mass transit.

The biggest ride-sharing and food-delivery companies in the U.S. are in talks to set up a fund to compensate drivers affected by the novel coronavirus, a step that highlights the pressure they face to provide workers with broader employment protections. Ride-hailing firms Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., as well as food-delivery startup DoorDash Inc., have individually said they would compensate drivers who have caught the virus or been told to quarantine for up to two weeks of missed pay.

Amazon has a diverse workplace of engineers, marketers and advertising executives with desk jobs who can relatively easily work from home. But, it also has a large contingent of warehouse workers who need to report to fulfillment centers. Amazon has directed its employees in locations such as its Seattle headquarters, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and San Francisco to work from home until the end of March. But, for warehouse workers packing and shipping orders for customers, working from home isn't an option.

Some Amazon workers had complained about the company's response to the virus. An online petition circulating on social media makes several requests of Amazon, including offering paid leave, allowing workers to take frequent breaks to wash their hands and for the company to push lawmakers to pass new laws concerning sick leave. Some workers said they can't afford to stay home under the unpaid leave policy.

"As Amazon employees, we are concerned about the company's current lack of protective measures," the petition says. "While Amazon has made some limited coronavirus accommodations, it needs a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety of all of its workers and the larger public."

A warehouse worker on Wednesday described his workplace as quieter than usual, and said that colleagues were using the relaxed policy for sick days.

As offices shut down, companies have had to wrestle with what to do with support staff at those offices.

"We will continue to pay all hourly employees that support our offices in Seattle, Bellevue, the Bay Area, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts -- from food service, to security guards to janitorial staff -- during the time our employees are asked to work from home," an Amazon spokeswoman said.

Other tech companies have announced measures to help workers affected by the virus. Microsoft Corp. and Google, which have recommended some of their U.S. employees work from home, have said they would continue to pay hourly workers whose jobs are hit by those moves.

Walmart Inc. and Home Depot Inc., which have thousands of stores and warehouses shipping items to customers, have expanded their time off policies for hourly workers. Home Depot is continuing pay for associates tested positive with the coronavirus or in high-and-medium risk situations where they recently traveled to a risky geography or require quarantine for 14 days.

Walmart, the country's largest private employer, said Tuesday it is providing paid time off for hourly workers diagnosed with the coronavirus or subject to mandatory quarantine. Workers that feel sick can miss work without penalty, the company said, as it aims to keep sick workers at home. The retailer confirmed Monday that a worker in its Cynthiana, Ky., store had tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Best Buy Co. and Lowe's Cos. announced similar changes to their attendance policies Wednesday.

--Sebastian Herrera and Sarah Nassauer contributed to this article.

Write to Dana Mattioli at dana.mattioli@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 12, 2020 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)

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