These days, large companies are facing a challenge: how to keep workers safe in the face of a once-again raging pandemic. Unfortunately, the delta variant has caused a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, and now, employers are scrambling to adjust.
Some, like Apple, are postponing their office reopening plans. Others, like Google and Microsoft, are calling for employees to show proof of vaccination before returning to office buildings.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), meanwhile, has a huge problem on its hands. In addition to its corporate staff, the online retail giant needs to establish policies for its large team of warehouse workers. And as of now, it's insisting that it will not force warehouse employees to get a coronavirus vaccine.
A tough spot for Amazon
Amazon has come under fire many times over for its mistreatment of warehouse workers during the pandemic. Early on, the company was slammed for allowing outbreaks to occur at its facilities and for retaliating against workers who spoke up about the unsafe working conditions they faced. Things reached the point where New York even brought a lawsuit against Amazon for failing to protect warehouse workers when the outbreak was at its worst.
Now, Amazon faces a new conundrum -- impose vaccines and alienate staff, or make vaccines optional and put its entire warehouse team at risk. It's far from an enviable position to be in. If the company enforces vaccines, it could lose workers at a time when the demand for online orders is still surging. That could, in turn, hurt its bottom line. Then again, so could widespread outbreaks at its many fulfillment centers.
But still, Amazon is, as of now, insisting that workers can make their own decisions with regard to getting vaccinated. And the retail giant will have to hope that move doesn't come back to bite it.
To be fair, it's not like Amazon hasn't tried to get workers vaccinated. The company has held over 1,100 free vaccine events and administered close to 200,000 shots on-site. Amazon has also offered financial incentives for employees to get vaccinated and provided education in an effort to encourage its workers to go out and get a jab.
At the same time, Amazon began letting employees who showed proof of vaccination work mask-free in May. That, in turn, has caused a lot of tension among its employees who feel they shouldn't be singled out based on health decisions they make for themselves.
The fact that some Amazon warehouses also have a blanket masking requirement due to local rules has also caused confusion among company employees. In areas where masking is required indoors, Amazon says its workers must mask up, regardless of vaccine status.
The bottom line
All told, Amazon is really stuck between a rock and a hard place on the vaccine issue. And that's something real estate investors have every right to be worried about. If Amazon's current policy causes major outbreaks at distribution centers, it could hurt the warehousing industry on a whole. In fact, it won't be surprising to see Amazon change its tune on vaccine requirements over time, especially if the outbreak continues to get worse.