Amazon is notorious for treating its warehouse employees like "robots".
Encouraged to work at "Amazon pace", employees often process hundreds of orders an hour and even skip toilet breaks out of fear of being sacked for failing to "make rate".
As they receive orders, locate items, scan and pack them for shipping, Amazon's tracking software logs each action down to the second, including "time off task".
Too much time spent away from scanning packages, the system issues a warning.
Newly published documents obtained by technology website The Verge have revealed just how deeply automated that process is. Not only are warnings for underperformance automatically generated, but even termination notices.
"Amazon's system tracks the rate of each individual associate's productivity and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors," an Amazon lawyer wrote in a response to an unfair dismissal claim last year.
"If an associate receives two final written warnings or a total of six written warnings within a rolling 12-month period, the system automatically generates a termination notice."
The letter was in response to a labour dispute filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a former worker at the fulfilment centre in Baltimore, who was sacked for failing to meet their targets.
The unnamed employee, who has since withdrawn the complaint, claimed they had been terminated for engaging in legally protected activity.
The letter details how after receiving numerous warnings for failing to meet targets, the system automatically generated a termination notice. They successfully appealed their first termination and were retrained instead.
Later on, they received a second termination notice after repeatedly failing to hit their quotas, but as it came around Amazon Prime day and the facility was "on peak time", it was "determined it was not a good week to terminate" them and the notice was "allowed to expire in the system".
Another termination notice was later generated, and the employee was sacked.
Just prior to their sacking, the worker had complained to human resources about their manager for their "rude and disrespectful attitude" and "false accusations about my rates (and) time off task".
They claimed these complaints were the "protected activity" for which they were sacked.
In the letter, Amazon countered that the manager "had no ability whatsoever to modify production rates". "While managers have no control over rates, they can override the automatically generate notices if a policy was applied incorrectly," it said.
Amazon noted the criteria for receiving a warning was "entirely objective". To support its claim, it provided a list of around 300 employees terminated in the same time period.
"Amazon consistently terminates fulfilment centre associates for failing to repeatedly meet the standardised productivity rates," the letter said.
"In fact, Amazon has terminated hundreds of employees at the (Baltimore) facility alone since August 2017 for failure to meet productivity rates.
"(The employee) was terminated previously for failure to meet productivity rates, and after two re-trainings and numerous additional warnings, Amazon terminated (them) for the same reason it terminated hundreds of other employees without regard to any alleged protected concerted activity."
Amazon said the employee was attempting to "shoehorn" their own complaints about their "productivity rates and apparent inability to meet them" into the definition of a protected activity under labour law.
Amazon also outlined its approach to productivity more broadly.
"Associates must be detailed and efficient in processing each order," the letter says. "In order to ensure that associates are processing orders as efficiently as possible, Amazon developed a proprietary productivity metric for measuring and weighting productivity of each associate."
Amazon Australia, which has faced accusations of "dehumanising" work conditions, declined to comment. It's understood, however, that the company does not use automatically generated termination notices in Australia.
Its first local distribution centre opened in Dandenong South in Melbourne's outer suburbs in 2017. Last year it opened its second centre, twice the size of the Melbourne facility, in Liverpool in Sydney's southwest.
Amazon's admission is reminiscent of the story of Ibrahim Diallo, a California software developer who was sacked by a "machine out for blood".
Diallo, whose blog post about the incident went viral, recounted how even his managers were powerless to stop his termination once the automated process had been set in motion.