COVID-19 | Staff share concerns over Amazon's automated HR system

Staff share concerns over Amazon's automated HR system

Numerous outlets have reported that ecommerce giant Amazon has faced an influx of technical issues after its automated HR systems have been found struggling, due to the high increase of sick leave and backpay requests as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Daily Mail, an investigation carried out by Bloomberg discovered that some of the company’s workers, many of which have been hit by the pandemic, have been restricted from interfacing with the firm’s heavily automated human resources division.

The report claimed that, instead of dealing with human employees, workers had in fact been delayed for hours on the phone and had to deal with chatbots designed to fulfil requests automatically.

As part of the investigation, Bloomberg interviewed six employees who work in warehouses from Indiana to New Jersey. It went on to reveal that Amazon’s automation was wrongfully initiating termination proceedings on some staff members who are sick or who were recovering from COVID-19 for allegedly missing some shifts.

It is alleged that the system also denied sick leave to some workers, despite having documentation of being unwell or needing to take care of those who are sick.

One employee shared with Bloomberg that Amazon’s system automatically put her on unpaid leave, even after she requested to be compensated for sick leave due to being diagnosed with coronavirus.

They went on to explain how they spent several days trying to contact HR and were put on hold for hours, only to be transferred to a call centre worker in India who could not help with the concerns or rectify the errors.

Bloomberg stated that employees working with Amazon’s HR division believe that that the dysfunction between the systems has become increasingly worse due to the company’s goal to reduce its human workforce with a bigger focus on automation.

An anonymous employee continued: “[Human resources] is always struggling to automate and keep pace with the scale of the company.

“The horror stories happen because [HR] people are overwhelmed. And they don’t have the resources and the mental capacity to deal with [workers] because they’re pulled in so many different directions. It’s bound to have negative, real-life human impacts.”

In response to the employee claims, Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in an email: "These are unprecedented times, and we’re working fast to support our employees, partners and provide critical services to communities in need. We’ve created 175,000 jobs across America, increased wages, adjusted time-off options, just to name a few, to support the hundreds of thousands of employees who work in our sites. Like all companies we’re rapidly adjusting to support our teams," as was reported by Insurance Journal. 

This isn’t the first time Amazon has been criticised for its lack of investment in the HR process. HR Grapevine reported last year that company had confirmed plans to utilise automated systems to fire employees – without the involvement of humans in the process.

The system reportedly tracks a metric called ‘time off task’, which measures how long it takes employees to complete tasks, if they take breaks or pause while working.

Meanwhile, prior to Bloomberg’s report, a top engineer and exec decided to resign from Amazon after a five-year tenure with the firm, due to the way in which it handled its response to coronavirus.

Tim Bray, former Vice President of Amazon Web Services, stated he had ‘snapped’ in a blog post and as a result decided to remove himself from the organisation over the way in which it was treating employees due to COVID-19.



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