Amazon is asking warehouse workers who have stayed away during the pandemic to return for scheduled shifts or request a leave of absence.

Amazon

Amazon.com Inc. is asking warehouse employees who have stayed away from work during the pandemic to return for scheduled shifts beginning May 1, or request a leave of absence.

The move sets up a critical choice for employees at a company that has become a lifeline for Americans locked down to contain outbreaks of Covid-19. After the coronavirus began spreading through the U.S., Amazon offered unpaid time off without penalty for workers uncomfortable with coming in, along with $2-an-hour hazard pay for those who report for duty. The offers run through April.

In a blog post published Friday, Amazon said it would extend the raise through May 16 but made no mention of unlimited unpaid time off. Amazon said it was “providing flexibility with leave of absence options, including expanding the policy to cover Covid-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures.”

An Amazon spokeswoman said part-time and full-time employees will be eligible to request leave. It will be available both to employees who have existing health conditions as well as those who live with people who do, she said.

The largest online retailer has been scrambling to deal with a surge in orders that arrived just as outbreaks of Covid-19 began to hit its own ranks. Some workers have said Amazon wasn’t doing enough to keep them safe, cries that led to walkouts and protests rarely seen in Amazon’s workforce. Amazon stepped up the cleaning of its facilities and forced workers to keep their distance from one another.

But many employees at warehouses across the U.S. stayed home, either out of fear of catching or spreading the disease, or to care for children unable to attend school. Some had hoped to continue to stay away until the pandemic recedes and businesses reopen.

The company has said criticisms of its safety measures are unfounded, and that a majority of workers continue to show up for work. It has also kept its operations functioning in part with new hires and temporary staff, many plucked from the swelling ranks of the unemployed as non-essential businesses shut their doors and fire workers. Amazon said earlier this month it had hired an additional 100,000 employees, and would seek to fill 75,000 additional positions in its logistics network.

The company also said on Friday it would extend its additional overtime compensation through mid-May. The cost of the raises first rolled out in March will approach $700 million, Amazon said.

Business Insider reported earlier this week that Amazon was telling some employees that its unpaid time off policy would lapse at the end of April.

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