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Amazon extends its higher hourly and overtime pay during coronavirus

The company also expands its leave of absence policy to aid high-risk workers.

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An Amazon Prime Now distribution facility in Manhattan in 2015

Sarah Tew/CNET
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Amazon is extending its increased hourly pay and double overtime pay, offering warehouse employees in the US and Canada $2 extra an hour through May 16.

The online retail giant said Friday the higher wages will now cost the company just under $700 million, up from an estimated $350 million when it first announced the increased pay in mid-March.

Amazon also on Friday said it's expanding its leave of absence options during the coronavirus pandemic, now covering virus-related circumstances such as high-risk workers or school closures. Few other details were disclosed on the duration or requirements of this policy. To receive this benefit, workers will have to contact human resources, Amazon said.

The company, though, stopped short of extending its popular unlimited unpaid time off policy, which lets any hourly employee avoid coming into work if they are "unwilling or unable." That policy is currently scheduled to end on the last day of April, though Amazon still has a week to decide if it wants to extend the policy into May.

For high-risk employees, such as older workers or those with pre-existing conditions, this policy has been hugely beneficial to ensure they can avoid catching the virus out in public, while also not needing to worry about losing their jobs during a painful economic downturn. The new leave of absence options may help those workers continue to stay out of Amazon's warehouses, where there have been dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases.

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Amazon's benefits changes come as the company has struggled to respond to a spike in online orders during the health crisis and ensure it has enough workers staffing its hundreds of distribution facilities. The company already hired an additional 100,000 people during the pandemic and said last week it would hire 75,000 more employees.

Many workers in the US and across Europe have protested their treatment during the pandemic, saying Amazon isn't doing enough to protect them from the virus. 

In a culmination of those concerns, the advocacy group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice hosted an hours-long livestream on Friday to highlight warehouse worker problems and climate issues.

Amazon, meanwhile, has defended its efforts to keep its warehouses safe, saying it provides face masks and gloves, does temperature checks and continually cleans its facilities.