March 16, 2020
Silicon Valley has come up with its own high-tech version of Cinderella, the fairy tale maiden who was forced to toil endlessly for her otherwise privileged family.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook is encouraging staff worldwide to work from home—part of a so-called social distancing strategy to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But some in the social network’s army of contract workers—already often treated like second-class employees—have complained that they have no such luxury and are being asked to choose between their jobs and their health, The Intercept reports.
Discussions on Facebook’s internal employee forum reviewed by The Intercept reveal a state of confusion, fear, and resentment, with many precariously employed hourly contract workers stating that, contrary to statements to them from Facebook, they are barred by their actual employers from working from home, despite the technical feasibility and clear public health benefits of doing so.
The discussions focus on Facebook contractors employed by Accenture and WiPro at facilities in Austin, Texas, and Mountain View, California, including at least two Facebook offices. (In Mountain View, a local state of emergency already has been declared over the coronavirus.)
The Intercept has seen posts from at least six contractors complaining about not being able to work from home, and has communicated with two more contractors directly about the matter. One Accenture employee told The Intercept that their entire team of over 20 contractors had been told that they were not permitted to work from home to avoid infection.
A Facebook spokesperson told The Intercept that “for both our full-time employees and contingent workforce there is some work that cannot be done from home … for content reviewers, some of this work must be done from the office for safety, privacy and legal reasons,” adding that “we’re exploring work from home options on a temporary basis, and have already enabled it in some locations.”
The spokesperson added that Facebook is “taking additional steps to limit contact for those in the office, like physically spreading people out, limiting in-person meetings, eliminating social visitors, making changes to food service, increasing office cleaning, and encouraging people who don’t need to be in the office to stay home.”
In some cases, workers said they’ve been told that the only way they can stay home is by using the finite paid time off days they’re allotted each year.
“Despite guidance from Facebook,” reads one contractor post, “contractors are being asked to come into the Mountain View office to work, unless they have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2.” This employee added that “We are being told that if we choose not to come in, whether it be for health concerns or out of an abundance of caution, that we will have to use PTO, [paid time off] and it’s unclear if our absence is going to be counted against us.”
According to a post from an Austin Facebook contractor, Accenture “is only sending home people who ‘exhibit flu like symptoms in the work place.’” This contractor added that he “just saw 3 people get sent home and we’re all still in the office trying to focus on our work like cross contamination doesn’t exist for 14 days prior to symptoms showing up…At this point, I’m at a loss.”
“Most people here are sick, coughing, and sneezing,” wrote a Facebook contractor in Mountain View. “The office ran out of Clorox wipes and hand sanitizers, there are no masks or thermometer.” At this office, the disparity between Facebook’s full-time employees and their hourly support staff is particularly galling: “Some employees who work in the same building got paid 2 weeks of staying home! So how is that fair? Why their lives matter more than others? Why some of us have to choose between risking their work or their health?”
Neither Accenture nor WiPro could immediately comment to the Intercept about the situation.
After The Intercept contacted Facebook, sources said the company deleted at least once lengthy thread on the PTO grievances, with one Facebook employee saying in the online workplace forum that the deleted post “contained false and misleading information about COVID-19 that was causing unnecessary panic for some people working in the [Mountain View] office.” This employee added that “going forward,” the company “will remove any posts or comment about COVID-19 flagged to us that contains misinformation.”
Research contact: @theintercept