Meta's in-house staff won't have to return to the office for months, but some of its contracted workers are only now getting a similar reprieve. BuzzFeed News has learned subcontractor Accenture has scrapped a requirement that hundreds of Facebook moderators return to in-person work in Mountain View, California on January 24th. The original plan, provided to moderators in late December, would have forced roughly 400 people to work in close proximity while COVID-19's highly infectious Omicron variant is likely to still be rampant.
The announcement led to public and private protests over the decision, including "nearly a dozen" threats to resign, BuzzFeed said. The moderators said it was impossible to maintain Accenture's social distancing requirements given tightly packed offices, closed stairwells, and poor enforcement, and that the company didn't provide exemptions for immunocompromised workers or vulnerable family members.
An Accenture spokesperson confirmed that moderators working from home "should continue to do so" based on COVID-19 health data, and claimed the company worked "collaboratively" to accommodate individuals in compliance with the law. Meta, meanwhile, said it would "continue to prioritize" the health and safety of all workers. Meta's own employees can defer returns to the office to as late as June.
These concerns aren't strictly new. Moderators accused Meta (then Facebook) in 2020 of putting lives at risk by asking some contractors to work from the office even when family members were highly vulnerable. Meta disputed some of the claims at the time, but not all. This also comes after a $52 million settlement with moderators who said they developed PTSD and other mental health issues while screening harmful material. However, this latest incident suggests Meta still hasn't shaken concerns about the welfare of its moderation teams.