Amazon adjusts its ‘Time Off Task’ metric and drug testing policy

On the same day that the Washington Post reported that data shows Amazon’s warehouse workers “suffer serious injuries at higher rates than other firms,” the company announced two changes that are part of its stated goal of being “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” 

One change is that — with the exception of positions regulated by the Department of Transportation — it won’t test for marijuana as part of its “comprehensive drug screening” or disqualify applicants for it. However, workers can still be tested for impairment on the job, and it “will test for all drugs and alcohol after any incident.” Beyond that, Amazon is supporting federal legislation that would “legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities.”
The other change affects its use of the “Time Off Task” metric — a measure of any time workers spend away from the tools at their stations — which is now “averaging Time off Task over a longer period to ensure that there’s more signal and less noise.” Time Off Task is one of the policies cited in reports about the pressure employees have felt to avoid taking bathroom breaks, and keep up a pace that they link to injuries suffered on the job.

In Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders earlier this year, he claimed “We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data.” Now the company claims that Time Off Task is really there “to understand whether there are issues with the tools that people use to be productive,” with identifying underperformance as a secondary goal. Documents obtained by The Verge in 2019 showed that over about a year, hundreds of employees were fired at one Baltimore facility for productivity reasons. Amazon did not reveal specifics on the change, but metrics that are easier to live with may do more for employee happiness and safety than ZenBooth kiosks.

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