Waymo is sending staff "pressing" Covid safety procedures. Workers may very well be fired if injured


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 to keep paying employees in the future, especially if they have to stop services.

Waymo's contractor leadership, Transdev transportation company, emailed drivers and support staff Tuesday evening with updated guidelines, asking staff to "re-sign" an agreement containing new rules for wearing masks, unpaid quarantines and disciplinary action such as a possible dismissal if violated.

"This is a difficult time for all of us, especially as the holidays approach," read an email titled "URGENT – COVID Security Policy Changes" viewed by CNBC. "We urgently need your help to keep us all safe. So remember, strictly follow the safety procedures we put in place at work and encourage your employees to do the same."

The company announced that it will hold an all-hands meeting next week to discuss the details of any revised policy that will take effect immediately. It also urged employees to follow CDC's Thanksgiving Celebration Guidelines and any additional state and local guidelines "on this very sensitive holiday weekend."

Waymo did not respond to a request for comment.

The policy updates will come when Covid-19 cases are high across the country and the self-driving company owned by Alphabet is again facing a possible shutdown. The company ceased operations at the beginning of the pandemic but resumed operations in 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 continue to get paid when quarantined because they are initially in close contact with someone else at work. However, you will not be paid if the employee has been determined to have failed to follow safety procedures and Waymo will conduct an investigation.

Tuesday's email warned that while the company has been able to pay employees who need to be quarantined, it may not continue to do so in the future.

"So far we have been fortunate to be able to pay everyone during the period of the shelter and during the mandatory quarantine," the letter said. "This is not a practice that I can guarantee for the future, especially if we have to shut down the service again."

According to the updated guidelines, all employees must wear masks unless they are actively eating, drinking or taking a break. All employees must be 6 feet apart. In a new "Mask Break Policy", the companies instruct employees to remove masks only in isolation, outside, inside a one-person toilet or alone in a closed office.

There are also restrictions on the types of masks workers can wear.

"With the exception of Transdev or the logo of the client / agency logo, the fabric covers may not display any logos, slogans or insignia," the emails read. "In addition, face coverings must not have a ventilated or modified airflow system. Neck gaiters must also not be used at work."

Employees who fail to adhere to Covid-19 security procedures risk being suspended for up to five days without pay and may receive a seven-point performance discount under a new "Covid-related Discipline Policy". A later breach of Covid can lead to an additional deduction and even termination.

The leadership warned against becoming sloppy with protective gear, saying the logs were "actively monitored both in the field and in the field". Safety checks are also carried out at random and employees are asked to speak up if they see colleagues misusing protective equipment.

"It is important that we all adhere to the established security procedures again," it said in the email. "We've taken some extra steps to protect everyone at work and we urgently need your help."


Katherine Clark