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Frustrated worker’s email to Jeff Bezos may change way Amazon pays everyone

Internal errors with system for taking leave saw many workers underpaid or even fired

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 27 October 2021 22:21
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A new mother working for Amazon was so frustrated at being underpaid by the company, she emailed founder Jeff Bezos to complain, triggering an internal investigation.

Her actions revealed that Amazon was systematically underpaying workers who were on leave and that there were major problems with the company’s payroll and human resources systems.

The New York Times reports that Tara Jones, who works at an Amazon warehouse in Oklahoma, emailed Mr Bezos in 2020 after discovering she was being underpaid by $90 out of the $540 a month she was owed.

Having recently given birth, Ms Jones emailed the company’s founder, and second richest man in the world, to complain.

“I’m behind on bills, all because the pay team messed up,” she wrote.

Ms Jones added: “I’m crying as I write this email.”

Amazon discovered through its internal investigation that the company was underpaying employees on leave, including those absent from work for medical or disability leave.

The Times reports that the problem went on for at least 18 months and as many as 179 warehouses may have been affected.

Another warehouse worker identified in the report ended up in such dire straits he had his car repossessed and he and his wife were forced to sell their wedding rings to afford food and pay medical bills.

James Watts of Chattanooga, Tennessee said that his disability payments had ceased for several months early in 2021 upsetting his finances. Benefit payments restarted without explanation but the couple is still struggling to get back on their feet.

Perhaps one of the most extreme problems reported by the Times was that workers on medical leave were automatically fired by the company’s attendance software which recorded their leave as an absence.

As employees struggled to correct problems, back-office staff became overwhelmed.

Problems were also occurring when people tried returning to work after a period of leave, finding the system was too backed up to process them.

Internal documents seen by the Times variously refer to “inadequate service levels”, “deficient processes” and systems being “prone to delay and error”.

Amazon has been criticised in the past for its treatment of its huge workforce, thought to now number in excess of 1.3 million people.

In a statement to The Independent, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said: “We’re disappointed when any of our employees experience an issue with their leave. The New York Times article suggested these issues are widespread and ongoing. They are not. We went back and audited the period in question to make sure employees received their pay, and to our knowledge, there are no outstanding issues.”

She continued: “The controls we’ve implemented over the last 18 months have resulted in less than 1 percent of people experiencing an issue while being on paid leave. Certainly, the unprecedented nature of Covid did put a strain on our system’s ability to keep pace with demand and we’ve been hard at work investing and inventing to do better every day.”

The company has pledged to become “Earth’s best employer” and CEO Andy Jassy, who took over from Mr Bezos in July, has made a point of singling out the leave system as one area in which they can improve.

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