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Waymo's COVID-19 safety tightens as it faces another possible shutdown

Jon Fingas
·Associate Editor
·2-min read

Waymo’s self-driving passenger service is once again facing the risk of a another COVID-19 shutdown, and those involved are reportedly taking no chances. CNBC says it has obtained email from a Waymo partner warning staff of stricter “COVID Safety Policy Changes” they’ll need to accept to continue working. They’ll need to wear masks at all times unless they’re eating or on break, and even then they’ll only be allowed to go mask-free if they’re isolated, outside or in a one-person restroom. Six-foot social distancing is mandatory. And crucially, staff face harsh consequences if they’re caught violating the rules.

The company still plans to pay quarantined workers, but they’ll lose that pay if they violated policy. Those caught breaking rules on the job will face up to a five-day suspension and a seven-point performance deduction. Workers found violating the rules again might face additional deductions or be fired. The partner added that measures would be “actively monitored,” including through random spot checks.

Pay might not be certain even with the updated policy, however. The Waymo partner said in the email that paid quarantine was “not a practice [it] can guarantee” going forward, particularly if it needed to shut down its driverless service again.

We’ve asked Waymo for comment.

The clampdown isn’t surprising. COVID-19 cases are surging across the US, including in Arizona. Even when passengers aren’t at risk, infections could disrupt business and discourage customers from using Waymo’s service in the first place. If nothing else, this illustrates just how difficult it can be to keep self-driving tests and service running during a pandemic. The cars might handle themselves, but there are still plenty of people whose safety and income remain major concerns.