Amazon to end unlimited unpaid time off policy for warehouse workers

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Amazon is rolling back its "unlimited time off" policy starting Friday, and employees who don't return to work due to the fear of contracting coronavirus will have to apply for a leave of absence.

Under pressure, Amazon expanded paid leave, upping pay for workers who were told to self-quarantine by $2 an hour and doubling overtime; the policy has been extended to May 16.

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Still, the company refused to approve paid universal time off instead saying that workers could take unlimited unpaid time off if necessary, a policy that is now set to expire this week.

Amazon will only approve personal leaves of absence for emergencies and circumstances related to COVID-19, such as school closures or people who are at higher risks of contracting the virus, a company spokesperson said, according to reports by CBS News. The company advised that workers who are sick go on a medical leave of absence.

The tech giant faced backlash for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as workers walked off the job at fulfillment centers in both Detroit and New York to protest sanitation concerns at the facilities, including lack of cleaning supplies and crowded conditions that could put workers at greater risk of infections. Workers also complained that they weren't properly notified of the first cases of COVID-19 at their jobs.

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Scrutiny of Amazon has been heightened in recent weeks, after five employees were fired for speaking out about safety concerns in the workplace. Amazon has said the workers were fired for violating social distancing rules, but New York state's attorney general, Letitia James warned that the company could be in violation of federal worker safety laws and New York State’s whistle-blower protections, according to a letter from her office first reported by NPR.