I was interested to recently read that while Amazon warehouse workers at some locations are waiting to clock in, they see a steady stream of company-provided announcements on TVs. Rather than reminders to be safe or the local weather, they instead see stories of co-workers who were fired for theft.
In a new effort to discourage stealing, Amazon has put up flatscreen TVs that display examples of alleged on-the-job theft, according to current and former warehouse workers and anti-theft staff in a Bloomberg article. The alleged offenders aren’t identified by name, but are represented by a black silhouette stamped with the word “terminated,” and accompanied by details such as when they allegedly stole, what they stole, how much it was worth and how they got caught. Some of the silhouettes are marked “arrested.”
Theft is a persistent concern for Amazon, since its warehouses are full of small but valuable items and its workforce has high turnover and low pay. Workers interviewed for the article say the range of thefts posted on the screens is as varied as the company’s catalog: DVDs, an iPad, jewelry, a lighter, makeup, a microwave, phone cases and video games.
To be fair, there are other announcements on the TVs too, such as updates on incentive bonuses or a message about Black History Month. Nonetheless, in some warehouses that don’t have flatscreens, workers say paper notices detailing the firings are tacked to bulletin boards or taped to the wall, Bloomberg reports.
Some security experts say Amazon’s anecdotal warnings are simply a natural extension of older corporate loss-prevention tactics, such as frisking employees as they leave a store. Then again, that practice isn’t viewed favorably by employees.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a class-action lawsuit filed against Amazon by former employees at the company’s security contractor Integrated Security Systems. In their complaint, the employees said they were “required to wait at least 10 to 15 minutes each day, and often more than a half hour, at the beginning and end of each shift without compensation whatsoever in order to undergo a search for contraband and/or pilferage of inventory.” The Supreme Court later ruled that the workers did not have their fair labor rights violated by engaging in those activities.
Amazon isn’t alone in that practice, and its employees aren’t alone in resenting it either. For instance, Apple was hit in 2013 with a class-action lawsuit filed by thousands of employees who complained about the company’s policy of searching their bags and iDevices before they left work each day. A U.S. court later ruled in Apple’s favor, finding that Apple had made it clear that it would inspect those items as part of its theft-prevention activities. The court added that employees were not forced to bring those items to work and could therefore sidestep those searches.
None of this really comes as a surprise. By some estimates, cargo and warehouse-related theft amounts to well into the tens of billions of dollars worldwide. Furthermore, given Amazon’s growing inventory of products, its sprawling warehouses are potential targets.
On the other hand, while Amazon—and other companies—cannot allow theft in facilities, there is a question about just how far theft detection efforts should go. Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed? James McCracken, who used to work at Amazon’s warehouse in San Bernardino, Calif., thinks there is such a line, which Amazon has now crossed.
“That’s a weird way to go about scaring people,” McCracken says in the Bloomberg article. “I think that’s offensive.”
What are your thoughts on theft prevention? It may be legal for an employer to check employee’s bags when a shift is over, but should the employees be compensated for that waiting time? Secondly, is showing “news” about former employees terminated for stealing appropriate?