COMMENTARY | Amazon has faced some troubling press in recent years. In the beginning, it was the amazing, innovative new face of online shopping…but over time critics accused Amazon of running its warehouses like sweatshops, keeping costs down by overworking its employees and allowing temperatures to soar. This bad press might be behind a fence-mending plan just announced by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: Workers who want to quit can receive up to $5,000 under a new “Pay to Quit” policy.
The “Pay to Quit” policy offers money, up to a maximum of $5,000 for third-year and beyond workers, as an incentive to get unhappy workers to leave. As explained on CNN, the policy is apparently intended to improve Amazon’s efficiency by enticing unhappy, and thus less productive, workers to leave. Financially speaking, Amazon’s logic is sound because each unproductive worker could easily sap company revenue, especially if he or she was bitterly trying to gum up the works.
In terms of PR, Amazon has scored a big victory. But important questions remain:
First, does this $5,000 count as severance pay, or is it in addition to any severance pay? If the $5,000 is only offered to workers who have no benefits, it is costing Amazon much less than its PR folks would like us to believe. It is pure good press despite being considerably less than many corporate severance packages. Could Amazon be planning to use “Pay to Quit” as a sneaky way to avoid bad press over meager severance packages in the event of layoffs?
“Pay to Quit” could be used as a sort of pressure-release valve to entice enough workers to leave voluntarily that more expensive layoffs, which generate bad press, are rarely, if ever, necessary. While this is neither good nor bad in and of itself, it means that “Pay to Quit” is not quite the feel-good policy we imagine. Over time, Amazon likely “wins” more than its workers do.
More tricky is the issue of legal culpability. If an angry employee leaves but accepts “Pay to Quit” money, does that absolve Amazon of wrongdoing? These funds might be a way to tacitly silence workers who want to quit and later speak out against Amazon. “You took our money,” Amazon could say, implying that they are generous and the outspoken ex-employees are greedy traitors.
Does accepting “Pay to Quit” money mean the departing employee condones or accepts Amazon’s working conditions? On the surface “Pay to Quit” appears generous and altruistic, but it could have a dark side. Might other companies, perhaps less noble than Amazon, create their own “Pay to Quit” policies as a form of ominous “hush money”?