• The Amazon fulfillment center in Edison, New Jersey, about 30 miles outside New York City, saw its first case of COVID-19 on March 25. A local health official thinks the number is now around 50, although Amazon disputes that.
  • Amazon reminded employees in an email on Tuesday that it is ending its policy of unlimited, unpaid time off, meaning workers who are afraid to show up to facilities with coronavirus cases could be terminated.
  • Jay Elliot, the top public health official in Edison, told Business Insider that Amazon’s decision to rescind its policy of unlimited time off is “a real concern.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An Amazon warehouse outside New York City has seen dozens of COVID-19 cases among its workforce, the head of the local health department told Business Insider on Tuesday, urging the company to extend its policy of allowing workers to stay home if they feel unsafe.

The online retailer’s policy of unlimited unpaid time off will end on April 30, as Business Insider reported last week. Indeed, on Tuesday, Amazon formally communicated to employees that it was ending that particular response to the pandemic, originally introduced in March and later extended through the end of April.

“We are returning to our attendance policy on May 1,” Amazon told its workforce in an email obtained by Business Insider, “and the deadline to apply for a PLOA [Personal Leave of Absence] for certain COVID-19 circumstances is tomorrow, April 29.”

After April 29, workers who desire an unpaid leave of absence will need to provide 15 days advance notice. The company will continue to provide two weeks of paid time off to employees diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It’s ridiculous that they are forcing people to come back to work knowing the number of cases continues to grow,” one Amazon employee told Business Insider, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “It will be worse.”

Jay Elliot, director of the Department of Health and Human Services in Edison, New Jersey, told Business Insider he thinks Amazon’s decision to rescind its pandemic-era time off policy “has a lot to do” with complaints he’s hearing from employees in town, where it’s the most high-profile employer. “That’s a real concern,” he said.

The Amazon fulfillment center in Edison reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 25. The company has done much to improve conditions since then, according to Elliot, who says his inspectors stop by almost every other day.

“Early on there was a lot of angst and a lot of concern,” he said. “They have reacted now, correctly, from the standpoint of taking temperatures, monitoring and sending people home, taking every other sink out of service so that people aren’t shoulder-to-shoulder in the bathrooms.”

But the virus still spread. Elliot said he’s heard of between 50 and 55 cases at the facility, which is about 30 miles from New York City — and 15 miles from another Amazon facility in Carteret, New Jersey, where dozens of workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

An Amazon spokesperson, Timothy Carter, said that the company is “supporting the individuals who are recovering,” from cases of COVID-19. The retailer also insisted that the number of reported cases at the Edison facility is not accurate but did not provide a number of its own.

In this environment — with a pandemic and skyrocketing unemployment — Elliot said he would hope Amazon rethinks its decision to revert back to its old attendance policy.

“Things had really, really quieted down over the past few weeks after they finally instituted this, and they started giving them time off without charging them,” he said. “Until we get past this, they need to keep it going because it’s a huge thing from the standpoint of employees — you know what the state of unemployment is in this country — and they need to know there’s a job waiting for them.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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