Amazon is using peer pressure to keep German warehouse workers from calling in sick

For your colleagues’ sakes, stay healthy.
For your colleagues’ sakes, stay healthy.
Image: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
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Germany is known for its generous labor practices, including paid sick days. But to encourage workers not to use too many of these, Amazon has instituted a controversial policy that relies on peer pressure to encourage better employee attendance.

The policy, in effect at some of the e-commerce giant’s fulfillment centers in Germany, gives workers a bonus of between 6% and 10% of their monthly salary if they have used few paid sick days that month. But workers can only reach the top bonus level if coworkers on their teams also have good attendance records.

German law ensures that workers generally receive full pay for sick days, and workers are not required to provide a doctor’s note until after the third day they stay home with an illness. Bonus policies that reward workers for using fewer paid sick days are not uncommon in the country.

But basing part of that bonus on group attendance is a different story, says Thomas Klebe, the director of the Hugo Sinzheimer Institute for Labor Law. “A bonus on group attendance is quite unusual and may be challenged by a labor court,” he wrote in an email to Quartz.

Amazon, which has nine fulfillment centers and about 12,000 employees who work on a permanent basis in Germany, implemented the “health bonus” policy, including its group component, sometime last year. The company says it was developed in collaboration with work councils and encourages good workplace practices.

“It is a very good vehicle to ensure that people look out even more for safety,” Anette Nachbar, a spokesperson for Amazon Germany, told Quartz. “So workers really look after each other, so there are no accidents, so people are taking care of each other, and in their daily work people are cautious, so nobody is getting injured.”

Verdi, the trade union that represents Amazon workers, had a less positive reaction to the policy. Thomas Voss, a union representative, told the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the group bonus structure plays workers against each other and encourages them to come to work sick. ”We reject any kind of health bonus,” he told the paper, in German.

It’s not the first time Amazon’s labor practices have been controversial in Germany: The company faced strikes in 2013 (paywall) over pay rates, and workers objected to the company’s antipathy to union organizing.