The tumultuous divide between full-time staff and contract workers at Facebook and Google has come to a head recently, with this distinction now purportedly determining who deserves to work from home amid an ongoing global pandemic.
Throughout this week, several big names in tech have begun recommending that their workforce telecommute as a precautionary measure to avoid potentially spreading COVID-19, the respiratory illness that’s surpassed 125,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Google’s parent company Alphabet has asked all its North American employees to work remotely through April 10, with that same guidance later pushed out to the company’s staffers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Facebook later announced a similar policy: “We are extending our global guidance to allow anyone whose job allows them to do so, to voluntarily work remotely through Friday, April 10,” reads a company statement provided to CNN Thursday.
But according to multiple reports, such companywide directives don’t seem to apply to many of Facebook or Google’s extensive networks of subcontractors and temps, who are technically employed by third-party agencies and don’t have access to the same benefits as full-time employees.
At Google, where, by most estimates, contractors make up half the company’s total staff, company policy prevents some members of its so-called “extended workforce” from accessing their tasks remotely. A Google spokesperson told the Guardian that employees and contractors whose work required they be physically present on-site work were still required to come in. A Google spokesperson emphasized in an email to Gizmodo that, as with the company’s contractors, staffers whose work requires them to be on the company’s campuses must still show up.
“To serve our users and keep our products running, some work, performed by Google employees, temporary staff and vendors alike, can only be done by people physically present at offices,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We’re taking all necessary and recommended precautions, including increased sanitization and social distancing, a public health best practice.”
The company announced on March 10 that it was opening a fund to provide paid sick leave to third-party contractors, but did not go into detail about when workers would begin to see these benefits.
Which, understandably, isn’t going over well with a contingent of workers that have historically felt sidelined by Google’s crappy, preferential treatment.
“Our second-class status now has literal health implications,” Josh Borden, a triage analyst for Google, told the Guardian. Because of this, he said, his fellow coworkers have begun to feel that the company’s abandoned them or that their health isn’t considered a priority compared to full-time staffers.
“The FTEs [full-time employees] almost all seem to be heeding the recommendation to work from home, while we are sitting here in the Petri dish, with the choice of not getting paid, or maybe getting sick and then putting our family and friends at risk too,” he continued.
That prevailing attitude apparently isn’t much different at Facebook, per a recent Intercept report. The outlet reviewed several posts from an internal company forum where workers from Accenture and WiPro, contracting agencies with facilities in Austin, Texas, and Mountain View, California, denounced recent policies that seem to pit their jobs against their health.
One Accenture contractor posted that the company expected employees to continue working on-site unless they showed flu-like symptoms. The contractor went on to describe how they “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,” per the report.
Another Accenture employee told the Intercept that their entire 20-person team had been banned from working remotely. One forum post also described how, after asking HR about the situation, they were told they needed a note from an immunocompromised family member to show “a legitimate concern” for requesting sick leave. “This all seems quite unreal,” they wrote.
Frustrating things further, third-party agencies and Facebook have purportedly given contradicting answers about contractors’ options should they need to stay home sick. According to several employees on the forum, Accenture had informed them that “contingent workers can choose either unpaid sick leave or use PTO. They are not, however, allowed to have paid sick leave.” However, another forum post from a Facebook employee in charge of Accenture staff claimed the exact opposite, that “if any contingent worker falls ill and needs to take time to recover, they do not need to use their sick or PTO time.”
A Facebook spokesperson told the Intercept that it’s currently looking into ways to temporarily enable remote options for jobs that—for privacy and legal reasons—typically require employees to be at the office. The company’s also purportedly “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.”
Update March 14: Added statement from Google spokesperson.