Facebook is ordering some of its third-party content moderators back to its offices on Monday — and that’s caused them to panic.
The workers, contract employees at Accenture, a $145 billion professional services company, say the back-to-work order is indicative of a culture of silence and a two-tiered employment structure at the social network that exposes them to much greater risks than full-time employees.
Internally, workers have voiced concerns about returning to offices during a pandemic that has sickened 7.6 million people and killed more than 213,000 in the United States. And some Facebook content moderators employed by Accenture in Austin and Mountain View, California, who are expected to return to the office next week are concerned that they may lose their jobs if they do not.
Facebook has told its full-time employees that they should expect to work from home until July 2021. One full-time employee told BuzzFeed News that they’re not even allowed to go into their office to retrieve their personal belongings.
Accenture contractors working for Facebook on community operations and product data operations, however, have been told to show up in person on Monday, according to internal posts seen by BuzzFeed News, after having worked from home since March. Some of those contractors are concerned about their personal health, while others wonder why there have not been written communications from Accenture or Facebook about their return, which was first reported by the Verge.
“No written documentation, HR is hit-or-miss when it comes to addressing the numerous and varied concerns of the employees, and people are scared. Truly and understandably scared,” wrote one Accenture contractor on Thursday on an internal Facebook message board. “How can we possibly be ready to return to the office when this entire process has been so utterly and completely mishandled?”
“The blame here lies with Accenture,” they said. “The blame lies with Facebook.”
That post was made despite Accenture’s new policy telling contractors not to post “anything negative” to Workplace, Facebook’s internal platform for employees. Contractors were also told to keep personal conversations away from work areas because they could be “distracting” to coworkers, according to documents viewed by BuzzFeed News.
“Since March, we’ve increased our use of technology and enabled an overwhelming majority of our reviewers to work from home,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told BuzzFeed News. “But considering some of the most sensitive content can’t be reviewed from home, we’ve begun allowing reviewers back into some of our sites as government guidance has permitted.”
Rachel Frey, a spokesperson for Accenture, said the company was “gradually returning people to client offices in cases where there is a critical business reason to do so.”
“Any office-based work is done in consideration of local orders, and with rigorous health and safety measures in place – including vastly reduced building occupancy, extensive social distancing, daily office cleaning, individual transportation, temperature checks at the beginning of every shift and other measures,” she said in a statement, adding that Accenture had provided information to workers in town hall meetings.
While Bourgeois said the company is “putting strict measures in place,” contract content moderators still don’t know what those are, causing waves of confusion among contractors, of which there are some 15,000 employed by third-party firms.
These contractors do not enjoy the same benefits as full-time employees, and they are often subject to menial and psychologically damaging tasks of moderating content that can include violence, hate speech, and other graphic material. In May, Facebook settled a lawsuit with current and former contractors, agreeing to pay them $52 million. Facebook admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Some contractors and full-time employees have questioned the differences in treatment between the two classes of workers. In a note explaining why he quit earlier this week, an engineer named Adin Rosenberg wrote that for a company that claimed to be “working on social good,” Facebook had created an “underclass” of workers.
“The existence of this two-tier system, with one privileged tier, that enjoys compensation, benefits and overall treatment that the other tier can only dream of, is just plain wrong in my opinion,” he wrote. “To make matters worse there exists a wall between these two tiers, so the privileged must actively look very hard in order to even see the other side.”
Rosenberg declined to comment.
Some contractors also wondered on Workplace if Accenture’s demands to return them to an office in Mountain View, California, violated a local public health order in Santa Clara County. Based on current regulations, Santa Clara County is under California’s Tier 2 designation, which states that office settings must remain “remote.” That setting could change next Tuesday, when the state announces whether counties have improved or worsened.
A county public health official declined to comment on any specific workplace but confirmed that Santa Clara remained a Tier 2 county. Neither Facebook nor Accenture commented when asked if they would be potentially violating the local health order.
The Accenture contractor, who slammed Facebook and the third-party contracting firm in Thursday’s post, also called out Accenture’s core values of “integrity” and “respect for the individual.”
“I would love for these core values to make an appearance in this unprecedented situation,” the person wrote, noting that the process to submit a doctor’s note to remain a remote worker was a “horror show.” Workers have also discussed their concerns that they would not have anyone to watch their children if they did return to their offices, they wrote.
“I know that people are scared to speak up because they don’t want to risk their jobs,” the post concluded. “I don’t blame you at all. It’s something we shouldn’t have to be afraid of, but it’s also something we all know could backfire onto you because people don’t play fair.
“I will keep making noise for you.”