• Amazon penalises staff for taking sick days, investigation finds

  • 12 Dec 2016
  • Comments 5 comments

Sunday Times also reports employees must work extra ‘compulsory’ hours; legal experts say absence policies are becoming stricter but more compassion is needed

Amazon has been accused of having “intolerable working conditions”, including penalising staff for taking sick days at its warehouse in Scotland.

The e-tailer issues penalty points if employees take time off sick as part of its disciplinary system, found an investigation by The Sunday Times. More than one point results in a ‘series of counselling and disciplinary meetings’, and between four and six points can result in dismissal.

In one instance, a female employee who spent three days in hospital with a kidney infection was docked two points, which was reduced to one on appeal, despite providing a hospital note.

But it is legal for companies to have such policies, said Michael Newman, an employment lawyer at Leigh Day. “Absence policies are definitely becoming stricter. Amazon’s policy doesn’t seem particularly unusual though – the important thing is to distinguish between days off, and periods of absence. It is usually the latter that counts for unfair dismissal purposes, although many policies look at both how long you are off for, and how many times you are off,” he said.

However, while most employers are focused primarily on delivering service and productivity and profitability, they need to show more compassion and support for staff, said Jeanette Wheeler, a partner at Birketts. “Almost all employers operate absence management and sickness procedures that are aimed at managing and keeping sickness absence to an acceptable level,” she said. “Sickness absence is usually disruptive to business to a greater or lesser degree and affects productivity, and alongside this some employers will also use incentives like attendance bonuses.”

The Sunday Times investigation also found that staff are denied proper bathroom breaks, suffer blisters because they walk so much, and have to work 'compulsory' extra days and hours at short notice.

The newspaper also reported that some employees have resorted to camping near Amazon’s Dunfermline warehouse because of high commuting costs. Iain Wright MP, who chairs the business select committee, said the committee would investigate the allegations.

A spokesperson for Amazon said it provided a “safe and positive workplace with competitive pay and benefits from day one”, and paid a starting wage of £7.35, which is 15p per hour higher than the national living wage.

This is not the first time that Amazon has been accused of poor working practices. The GMB trade union recently claimed that Amazon’s workers had become ill as a result of the company’s expectations and working conditions.

Sports Direct was also recently condemned for similar working practices, including a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ discipline policy, and for failing to pay staff the national minimum wage.

Meanwhile, Uber’s working practices have come under fire. The taxi-hailing app has been accused of treating its drivers as Victorian-style “sweated labour”, with some feeling forced to work more than 70 hours a week just to make a basic living.

Labour MP and chair of the work and pensions committee Frank Field created a report, Sweated Labour: Uber and the ‘gig’ economy, following concerns about the labour market.

Field received testimony from 83 drivers who said they often took home “significantly less than the national living wage” after paying their running costs.

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Comments (5)
  • I don't think this is just limited to Amazon most companies in the UK have the same attitude and deal with sick leave. So many times you see staff come into work sick and it then spreads throughout the office. This could be stopped by these staff taking one or two days to recover but as employers more often than not penalise staff for taking one or two days off staff avoid doing so. Many of the employees that are subjected to this are also on lower wages and by taking time off they run the risk of not only being given written warnings but also being hit hard financially. Many employers that pay lower wages offer bonuses and many of them have a clause in that if you take any sick leave you will not receive or only part receive the bonus. They could quite easily make all targets but due to being ill they take one day off sick and the bonus is gone. Sometimes I do wonder if the employer does hope the illness spreads throughout the office that way if most day a day off they won't have to pay the bonus saving the company money. I am aware of one company where this is rife and have heard rumours about others. This is on top of what I have personally experienced.

  • I regret to say that organisations of any size can treat their staff badly when it comes to sickness.

    I worked in a care home until very recently, for 17 years, and sickness is now being treated as a disciplinary matter. One carer had a skin complaint and made an appointment to see her doctor, giving the Home a few day's notice so that they could find a replacement for her. The Manager told her that if she attended the appointment she would lose a day's pay and could not take it as an annual leave day instead. The carer cancelled her appointment as she couldn't afford to lose a day's pay. She got another appointment a week later but because of the delay she now has permanent scaring on her arms as she did not get the cream she needed to deal with the infection at the right time.

  • Being docked point whilst in hospital is just ridiculous and if this is true the government should intervene. This is morally inexcusable and completely reliant on individuals being worried about the lack of alternative employment. Perhaps we should use High Street retailers more, discredit their brand image and put the company under more economic pressure by using them less.

  • This is an interesting contrast to HR practices in Australia where individuals receive 10 days of paid carers leave a year which can be taken for sick leave or to care for a relative. This accumulates year on year and it is a major faux pas to discipline someone for exercising their right to take this leave. Unless they have taken over 3 months of sickness, it is extremely difficult to challenge someone on their sickness absence, provided it is covered with acceptable evidence to support the leave. Interesting to look at the 2 countries and compare.

  • How can we tolerate such an organisation in the 21st century?  This company behave like a Victorian sweatshop,  If Government can put Sports Direct under pressure, why are Amazon not receiving the same treatment?  It seems the only way to get this type of employer to respond is by taking our business elsewhere otherwise they will probably become even more ruthless and anti -social.