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Amazon adjusts 'time off task' policy that critics said limited bathroom breaks

Amazon says it will take a longer view to how long employees are spending logged out of devices that tell them what to do next.

The Amazon smile log on the exterior of a warehouse.
Amazon plans to average time off tasks over an unspecified longer period of time.
Getty Images

As Amazon gears up for Prime Day starting on June 21, the company says it's going to lighten the burden of a controversial employment practices at its warehouses. Amazon will change the way it tracks workers when they go on a "time off task," such as talking with a manager or HR, waiting for a mechanical failure to be resolved or going to the bathroom. 

The goal is to make a handful of longer work pauses less likely to prompt employee discipline if they're outliers over a longer period of time. Time off task was meant to identify larger problems in the operational flow at warehouses, said Dave Clark, CEO of worldwide consumer operations, in an announcement of the change Tuesday, and only secondarily to track employee performance. 

"We believe this change will help ensure the Time off Task policy is used in the way it was intended," Clark said.

Warehouse workers and labor advocates say the time off task system makes workers afraid to take bathroom breaks or seek first aid lest they tally up too long a pause. Critics also say the policy flies in the face of assurances from Amazon that warehouse workers can take bathroom breaks outside of their allotted 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks in each 10-hour shift. 

Bathroom complaints have plagued Amazon for years, with 2020 bringing reports of delivery drivers peeing in cups and defecating in bags because their work pace won't let them stop to find a bathroom. Amazon acknowledged the problem in April after initially denying the company had a problem with "pee bottles," but said the problem was limited to delivery drivers, who face issues finding bathrooms across the industry.

At its warehouses, Amazon tracks workers through devices that tell employees what to do next. Workers log out of the devices when they go on time off task. Clark said the company will now average the length of these pauses over a longer period of time. That will "ensure that there's more signal and less noise" in the data Amazon collects on employees, he said. 

Clark didn't specify the period of time over which Amazon will average time off task, or what the time period was prior to the policy change. Amazon didn't respond to a request for these details.

Amazon also said it will stop testing for marijuana as part of its hiring process, meaning use of the drug won't be a bar to employment. The company will still test for impairment on the job and will test for marijuana when investigating worksite incidents, Clark said.