Facebook moderators working as independent contractors in Dublin say they’re required to work in the office, despite a new nationwide lockdown across Ireland, The Guardian reports. The moderators, employed by contractor CPL, say they were told they’re considered essential workers and therefore not bound by Ireland’s Level 5 restrictions, which require people to work at home unless they’re “providing an essential purpose for which your physical presence is required.”
Earlier this week, Ireland became the biggest country to implement a strict lockdown to try to contain a new spike in coronavirus cases. As of Thursday, the country has had more than 54,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,871 deaths, Ireland’s Department of Health reported.
Facebook said in a statement its “partners have started to bring some content reviewers back to offices” in recent months. “Our focus has always been on how this content review can be done in a way that keeps our reviewers safe.” A moderator considered vulnerable can work from home, according to the statement, and the company is “working with our partners to ensure strict health and safety measures are in place and any confirmed cases of illness are disclosed.”
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Facebook requires physical distancing and reduced capacity at its workplaces, as well as mandatory temperature checks and mask-wearing. It also says it conducts daily deep cleaning.
But according to The Guardian, workers said when they returned to offices in Ireland in July, they were told a confirmed COVID-19 case would result in a 72-hour shutdown of the office. The office has remained open, despite three new cases since the end of September.
In May, Facebook announced it was shifting its remote work policy to allow most of its 48,000 employees to work from home permanently. But Facebook has about 15,000 paid contractors employed by third-party companies, and the workers are ineligible for most of the benefits that corporate employees receive.
And it’s not the first time the company’s contractors have required moderators to work in-office during the pandemic. Earlier this month, The Verge reported that Facebook moderators in Austin, Texas employed by third-party contractor Accenture were being forced to return to the office there as well.
Facebook moderators can spend much of their time reviewing graphic videos, hate speech, and other disturbing material, and many have developed post-traumatic stress disorders. In May, Facebook settled with current and former moderators for $52 million in a ruling that found the job had a severe impact on the workers’ mental health.