As Amazon grew into a goods delivery juggernaut and the No. 2 U.S. private employer, "a lot of times, because we've optimized for the customer experience, we've been focused on that," Bethany Reyes, recently put in charge of the company's leave program, tells The New York Times. Amazon offers its workers a wide variety of leave options — paid, unpaid, medical, personal — but as its leave administration outgrew the contractors Amazon had been using, it brought the leave management program in-house. It hasn't been a smooth transition.
In internal correspondence, the Times reports, Amazon administrators warned of "inadequate service levels," "deficient processes" and leave systems that are "prone to delay and error." Amazon employees caught up in those mistakes are less euphemistic.
"Workers across the country facing medical problems and other life crises have been fired when the attendance software mistakenly marked them as no-shows," the Times reports, citing former and current human resources staff. "Doctors' notes vanished into black holes in Amazon's databases. ... Some workers who were ready to return found that the system was too backed up to process them, resulting in weeks or months of lost income."
One problem was uncovered a year ago by Tara Jones, an Amazon warehouse worker in Oklahoma who had taken accounting in community college and noticed that Amazon was underpaying her a significant amount during her parental leave, the Times reports. The error continued even after she reported it, so she wrote founder Jeff Bezos. The email sparked an investigation that discovered widespread underpayments to workers, including up to 179 at Jones' warehouse. Amazon is still identifying and paying workers, a company spokeswoman told the Times.
After the Times in June reported muliple issues in Amazon's employment systems during the pandemic-fueled surge in company profits, new CEO Andy Jassy highlighted fixing the leave system as one way the company can become "Earth's best employer." Reyes told the Times that Amazon has made headway in addressing the problems and said the disparate software the company uses will start working together by March. You can read some of the stories of workers severely affected in the meantime at The New York Times.