'Gravest problem' | Amazon's 'broken' HR system led to firings and MASSIVE underpayments

Amazon's 'broken' HR system led to firings and MASSIVE underpayments

A bug in Amazon’s HR systems has led to workers being fired and many missing out on months of pay after applying for leave due to care-giving and medical reasons.

Though the internet retail giant attempted to keep the issue under wraps for the past 18 months, The New York Times has exposed the issue, citing a backlog in the services and a major headache for those tasked with unwrapping the issue.

'I’m crying’

The underpayment issue was first noticed when employees received pay checks that were much lower than expected.

Although, at least in one instance, this pay discrepancy was raised with the Seattle-headquartered organisation, it kept occurring.

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Speaking to The New York Times, one Amazon warehouse worker, said the issue led her to become so exasperated – after she was underpaid for months at a time – that she emailed Founder Jeff Bezos directly.

“I’m behind on bills, all because the pay team messed up. I’m crying as I write this email,” she wrote to them.

Institutional problem

This employee wasn’t alone. Amazon had been short-changing new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave, according to a confidential report on the findings.

According to one worker, as reported in The Daily Beast, after they went on disability leave they had benefits cut and “lost everything.”

The widespread nature of the case did spark an internal investigation at Amazon as they grappled with trying to understand why their systems were underpaying employees when they took paid and unpaid leave.

In fact, the problem became so widespread that it hit multiple warehouses, as well as office staff, and led company insiders, according to reporting by The Times, to say this was the “gravest human resources issue.”


The issue has also led to the firing of individuals who are facing medical and other life crises.

This occurred after HR’s attendance software mistakenly marked them as no-shows, according to former and current human resources staff members who spoke to The Times under anonymity.

And it doesn’t look like the problem will be solved anytime soon. Those who were expecting recompense or were ready to return to work found that the system was too backed up to process them, resulting in weeks or months of lost income.

Known to Amazon

This horrifying HR landscape was reportedly known to Amazon. In internal correspondence, company administrators warned of “inadequate service levels,” “deficient processes” and systems that are “prone to delay and error.”

For those involved in trying to unpick the issue, it has a shone a light on the disconnect between how Amazon value customers and value employees.

According to The Times, as Amazon rapidly grew to dominate the internet retail sector the business did not devote enough resources and attention to how it served employees, according to many long-time workers.

Bethany Reyes, who was recently put in charge of fixing the leave system, said: “A lot of times, because we’ve optimized for the customer experience, we’ve been focused on that.”

Customer experience focus

The apparent lack of focus on the employee experience at Amazon should act as a warning to all of those in HR.

At a recent HR Grapevine and Medallia round table, HR leaders agreed that weaving humanity and empathy into all areas of HR day-to-day practice would improve outcomes.

Many practitioners at this round table thought that the customer and employee experience should be aligned.

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And it should, they concluded, be driven by feedback – the exact thing that Amazon employees were doing when they brought up pay discrepancy issues – resulting in new policies and guidelines that make work better.

All of this, together, should then work to empower employees and take care of their wellbeing – all driving better work outcomes.

'World’s best employer’

For Amazon, it seems, at least according to reports, that they are at least trying to untangle the system issue.

However, these reports will only increase pressure on the mega employer – currently they engage 1.3million workers – as they face growing unionisation efforts and increased publicity around their health and safety record.

Although Andy Jassy, the company’s new CEO, has stated that he wants the business wants to become “Earth’s best employer” the pay system errors – coupled with how badly the leave system faltered during the peak moments of the pandemic; a time when Amazon was having record financial success – show that there is still a long way to go.

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