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Amazon Is Easing Mask Mandates for Its Warehouse Staff

Amazon.com Inc.

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will allow fully vaccinated employees to go maskless inside of its warehouses and is taking steps to adjust its paid time off policies after several states lifted indoor mask mandates this week.

The e-commerce giant said in a memo to employees Thursday that the masking policy change would go into effect on Friday. Amazon in December began to require masks for all employees due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus’s Omicron variant. The company earlier had only required staff who weren’t vaccinated to wear masks.

Amazon is also taking away Covid-19-related paid leave for employees who aren’t vaccinated. By March 18, workers must have received two doses of the vaccine to receive the paid leave. Amazon in January reduced its isolation period for workers who test positive for Covid-19 to seven days.

“There has been a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases across the country over the past weeks. Along with increasing vaccination rates across the country, this is a positive sign we can return to the path to normal operations,” Amazon’s memo says.

From New York to California, an increasing number of states are lifting statewide mask mandates as the Omicron wave recedes. Federal public-health officials, meanwhile, continue to recommend mask-wearing in public indoor settings in much of the country. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Officials in states that include New York, Illinois and Massachusetts this week said they would roll back mask mandates or policies that require proof of vaccination for certain activities, steps meant to curb the spread of Covid-19. The changes run counter to current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are being made as the pandemic is expected to be a top issue in this year’s midterm elections.

Amazon employs about a million workers in the US, most at its hundreds of warehouses throughout the country. Some US companies have required all workers and guests at their facilities to get a Covid-19 vaccine, including tech giants such as Microsoft Corp.

and Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. Amazon hasn’t mandated that its workers get vaccinated, though it has offered incentives for them to do so, such as bonuses.

Covid-19 cases have dropped throughout the US after surging late last year and in January. While states are easing mask restrictions, they have yet to do away with them entirely. New York said it would continue to require masks on public transportation and in healthcare settings, and Illinois will continue to require masks in schools.

With the paid leave policy change, Amazon has moved closer to an outright vaccine mandate as it navigates disruptions to its delivery operations, which are dependent on the hundreds of thousands of warehouse personnel it employees. Previously, the paid leave time related to the pandemic was available to all employees, regardless of vaccination status.

The threat of the Omicron variant, which spread quickly throughout the US, caused companies to shift procedures around the world in order to keep operating. Many corporations adjusted policies in ways that would cost workers money or impact their benefits if they remained unvaccinated.

Delta Airlines Inc.

in August began to charge unvaccinated workers a $200 monthly health insurance surcharge and said then that employees could lose pay protection for missing work due to the virus. Starbucks Corp.

meanwhile, last month dropped its requirement for US workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing after having earlier mandated vaccinations.

Amazon is unique in that it employs both corporate employees in tech as well as hourly warehouse workers. The company’s protocols have evolved as the threat of the virus has shifted and health guidelines have changed.

Labor markets have been tight during the past year, causing disruptions for Amazon and other major warehousing companies. Amazon during its fourth quarter spent about $4 billion in costs related to global supply-chain disruptions and responding to the labor shortage. The Omicron variant, however, arrived as Amazon was wrapping up its peak holiday period, meaning its workforce was less affected than if the variant had arrived earlier.

Amazon has responded to the virus aggressively. He was among early employers to send workers home and spent billions testing employees for Covid-19. Lately, it has focused on vaccinations. The company has hosted on-site vaccine clinics and offered employees small bonuses to receive their shots.

Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com

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