Amazon.com Inc. is overhauling a controversial worker-productivity yardstick that has drawn the ire of warehouse employees who say it imposes an unsafe burden on them.

The world’s largest online retailer uses sophisticated algorithms to monitor productivity at its facilities, and employees must explain why they’ve been away from their workstations — what Amazon calls “time off task.” If they reach a certain threshold they’ll be issued warnings and even terminated.

“Starting today, we’re now averaging Time off Task over a longer period,” Dave Clark, the chief executive officer of Amazon’s global retail and logistics business, said Tuesday in a post on Amazon’s corporate blog. Clark also said the company would no longer consider a positive test for marijuana use as disqualifying when hiring new employees and will support proposed federal legislation that would legalize marijuana.

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The company’s decision to overhaul its productivity targets coincides with a series of news reports that the rate of injuries at Amazon warehouses is higher than its peers in the logistics industry. Some employees have identified the fast pace of work as a contributing factor in repetitive stress injuries. Workers have also previously told Bloomberg that sometimes they are considered “off task” when they are visiting the bathroom.

Regulators in Washington state found there was a “direct connection” between Amazon’s employee monitoring and discipline system and musculoskeletal disorders among workers at a company warehouse in DuPont, Washington. Amazon said it would appeal the citation, which included a $7,000 fine, the Seattle Times and Reveal reported. During Amazon’s Prime Day sales rush last year, workers at a company warehouse in New York said Time off Task protocols made it impossible for them to abide by pandemic safety guidelines.

Clark said that the Time Off Task program was designed to identify defects with workers’ tools and, secondarily, to identify underperforming employees. “The goal is to re-focus the conversations on instances where there are likely true operational issues to resolve,” he said. “We believe this change will help ensure the Time off Task policy is used in the way it was intended.”



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