Does Amazon care more about productivity rates than your health?

By Samantha Rosenbaum / September 17th 2023

An Amazon employee from the Shakopee, Minnesota facility, Hibaq Mohamed, has accused the company of retaliation for her outspokenness about its labor practices. This revelation comes amidst a lawsuit filed by Amazon workers in June, urging the company to cease penalizing employees for taking time off tasks during the ongoing pandemic.

On July 17, 2020, CNBC reported that Mohamed was written up by Amazon in early July for violating the company’s time off task (TOT) policies, which monitor a worker’s productivity and can lead to warnings or terminations if employees spend excessive time away from their workstation.

Seeking assistance in rectifying the issue, Mohamed has written to the state’s Attorney General, Keith Ellison. In her letter, she details how Amazon cited her for spending too much time away from her work station on July 10, logging numerous “time off tasks.” Mohamed explained that these instances included waiting for a workstation, maintaining social distancing while making trips to the bathroom, or sanitizing her area.

Amazon’s TOT policy flags instances where a worker takes an extended break from scanning packages, with warnings and potential firings as consequences. The company clarified that warehouse workers can use additional time beyond their breaks for essential activities such as restroom breaks, handwashing, taking breaks, getting water, or speaking to their manager.

Despite Amazon asserting that it no longer penalizes workers for extended handwashing, Mohamed claims she was written up for violating the TOT policy in early July. Amazon did not promptly provide an explanation for this discrepancy. Alexsis Stephens, Amazon’s director of human resources for fulfillment centers, mentioned in a declaration that the company stopped providing productivity rate feedback and imposing discipline related to low productivity rates in response to COVID-19.

Mohamed argues that the TOT policy creates a deterrent for workers to take necessary safety precautions due to fear of discipline. For instance, workers might hesitate to replace a broken mask during their shift, fearing a violation of the TOT policy. Frank Kearl, a staff attorney with Make the Road New York, commented that the lawsuit and Mohamed’s complaint expose inconsistencies in Amazon’s policy enforcement.

While Amazon claims these policies have been in effect since March, Kearl emphasizes that their effectiveness in empowering workers depends on workers being aware of them. Amazon has faced previous allegations of retaliating against workers who spoke out, a charge the company has consistently denied. The company’s dismissals of at least four workers critical of its labor practices have drawn criticism from lawmakers, prompting an ongoing investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

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