Facebook’s US employees are allowed to work-from-home until the summer of 2021 but halfway across the world, thousands of its content moderators are being forced to come into offices in the middle of the pandemic.
Genpact, a third-party contractor that deployed 1,600 Facebook moderators in Hyderabad as of last year, pressured employees to return to offices as early as July, according to an Oct. 20 report from nonprofit publication Rest of World. In July, Covid-19 cases were still rising rapidly in Hyderabad and the authorities were contemplating another lockdown. The healthcare system in the city had also gone for a toss.
In an email to Quartz on Oct. 21, Genpact said the employees going to offices were choosing to do so of their own free will. “There is a very small population of employees in India who have opted-in to voluntarily return to the office to provide critical content moderation services,” a Genpact spokesperson said. “We continue to reinforce that this is strictly voluntary and employees deciding not to return to the office will see no impact whatsoever on benefits, pay, or status.”
The company is taking “extra steps” to ensure that its employees understand these rules, the spokesperson said.
The job of a Facebook moderator is to parse through graphic and disturbing posts day after day, which can be taxing. In May, Facebook agreed to pay $52 million in damages to 11,250 US-based moderators and provide more counselling to them.
In the middle of a pandemic, this job can get extra stressful as people are concerned about catching the virus. But Genpact showed little compassion to score an “advantage over competitors less comfortable sending workers in person,” Rest of World said.
In May, Facebook had reportedly offered extra pay to moderators in the US who voluntarily agreed to return to work. The Genpact workers told the Rest of World that no such bonus was extended to them in India.
Moreover, prior to the pandemic, their salaries of under $2 an hour were supplemented by food benefits in terms of in-office meals or through a prepaid meal card, the moderators said. But after the lockdown, meal privileges were taken away and not reinstated. Genpact said it’s continuing to provide packed meals and snacks for on-site workers.
A senior moderator told Rest of World that Genpact employees felt threatened, and they were told that not turning up in the office could cost them their jobs.
This is not the first time Genpact has come under fire. At the very beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in India in March, Quartz had reported that the company was being insensitive in handling the pandemic. Several employees had said at the time that they were being forced to come to work and their bosses were mocking the companies that were encouraging work from home.
At the time the company had told Quartz that it “is included as a designated essential service and is fully compliant with all India government mandates” but it did not directly comment on its remote work policy.
Several recent reviews for Genpact on company reviews site AmbitionBox claim the company has not allowed work from home and is enforcing long office hours. “Frequent changes in shift timings impacts the health,” one employee wrote. “At least in Covid-19, there must be day shift, nothing beyond 6pm, especially for domestic clients.”
Meanwhile, the company showed no support as workers grappled with relentless landlords and neighbours who harassed and sometimes evicted them, according to two Genpact moderators. Genpact denied the allegation and said it worked with authorities to stop evictions and offered some people alternative housing.
Paying no heed to the outcry within employees, Genpact is continuing to shift more people to work on Facebook content, two moderators claimed.