Waymo sends staff ‘urgent’ Covid safety procedures, employees could be fired if violated

Tech

Alphabet‘s self-driving car company Waymo is asking drivers to agree to stricter Covid-19 safety protocols, adding that it may not be able to afford continuing to pay employees in the future, especially if it has to shut down services again.

Leadership from Waymo and its contractor, transportation company Transdev, sent drivers and support staff an email with updated policies Tuesday evening, asking workers to “re-sign” an agreement that lists new rules for mask wearing, unpaid quarantines and disciplinary actions such a potential termination if they’re violated.

“This is a difficult time for all of us, especially as we approach the holidays,” Waymo leadership stated in an email titled “URGENT – COVID Safety Policy Changes” viewed by CNBC. “We urgently need your help to keep all of us safe. So, remember: strictly follow the safety procedures which we have put into place at work and encourage your co-workers to do the same.”

The company stated it will be hosting an all-hands meeting in the next week to discuss the details of each revised policy, which is effective immediately. It also urged employees to follow CDC Guidance on celebrating Thanksgiving and any additional state and local guidelines “over this very delicate holiday weekend.”

Waymo did not respond to a request for comment.

The policy updates come as Covid-19 cases surge to record high rates across the nation and the Alphabet-owned self-driving company faces another potential service shutdown. The company suspended operations at the beginning of the pandemic but then resumed over the summer. Waymo is in the midst of rolling out scaled operations after more than a decade of testing efforts, including its first publicly available, fully driverless taxi service in Arizona, which it launched in October.

In a new policy titled “unpaid quarantine,” the company said employees will still get paid if placed on quarantine due to close contact with another person at work for the time being. However, they won’t be paid if the employee was found to have not been following safety procedures, adding that Waymo will conduct an investigation. 

Tuesday’s email warned that while the company has been able to pay employees who need to quarantine, that may not continue in the future.

“So far, we have been fortunate to be able to pay everyone during the shelter in place period and during mandatory quarantines,” the letter states. “This is not a practice I can guarantee for the future, especially if we need to shut down service again.”

The updated policies require all workers to wear masks unless they are actively eating or drinking or on a break. All workers must maintain a six-foot distance and, in a new “Mask Break Policy,” the companies instruct employees to only remove masks while in isolation, outside, inside a one-person restroom or if working inside an enclosed office alone.

It also places restrictions on the types of masks workers are allowed to wear.

“Cloth face coverings may not display logos, slogans or insignia with the exception of Transdev or client/agency logo branding,” the emails say. “Furthermore, face coverings ​cannot​ have any kind of valved or modified airflow system; neck gaiters are also ​not​ permitted for use at work.”

Employees who fail to follow Covid-19 safety procedures risk suspension for up to five days with no pay and could receive a seven-point performance deduction, according to a new “Covid-related discipline policy.” A subsequent Covid violation may result in an additional deduction and even termination.

Leadership warned against becoming lax with protective gear and said the protocols will be “actively monitored both on-site and in the field.” It will also conducting safety spot checks at random and asks employees to speak up if they see colleagues misusing protective gear.

“It is critical that we all recommit to the established safety procedures,” the email reads. “We have taken some additional steps for everyone’s protection while at work and we urgently need your help.”

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