Tesla’s shrinking its workforce at the Nevada Gigafactory because of the coronavirus

One week after Tesla said it would keep up “normal” operations at the Gigafactory in Nevada, the company now plans to scale back the workforce there by “more than 75 percent” as the state shelters in place to fight the novel coronavirus. Panasonic, which helps make Tesla’s batteries in a section of the Gigafactory, suspended its operations there last week. Legacy automakers have also halted manufacturing operations in the United States amid the pandemic.

Tesla has already paused some nonessential operations at the factory and is encouraging employees to work from home if possible, which has “significantly” reduced the number of people showing up to work every day, according to an email obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal. The company expects to be down to only essential “supply chain” work by next week, as well as roles like security, facility maintenance, limited critical production, and IT support.

It’s unclear if the Gigafactory workers who are being told to stay home are being offered paid or unpaid leave. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. The company is paying the hourly employees at its other factories during similar shutdowns, though it also recently made its first pandemic-induced workforce cut in Norway.

Tesla is taking a number of steps to reduce the chance of spreading the novel coronavirus among the employees who will keep coming into work, according to the email. The company will close some entrances and will perform temperature checks at the entrances that remain open. Hand sanitizer will be required upon entry. Workers will have to stay six feet apart, including in the cafeteria, where the company will only have one chair per table. Work stations will be disinfected twice per shift, too.

On Thursday, Tesla confirmed two office employees had tested positive for COVID-19, but did not specify where those workers were located. The company said in an internal email that the employees “had been working from home for nearly two weeks” before they tested positive for COVID-19.

News of the partial shutdown of the Gigafactory was first announced by the local county manager, Austin Osborne, in a post on the local government’s website late Thursday.

“Our companies at TRIC [the industrial park where Tesla operates] are taking the COVID-19 matter seriously, and regularly report to us the measures they are taking to adhere to the established guidelines while maintaining essential operations,” Osborne wrote. “Checking employee temperatures, creating central access, allowing remote work, maintaining workstation distance, and others are occurring.” Osborne declined to offer more information in a follow-up email.

Tesla announced on March 19th that it was shutting down its electric car factory in California and its solar panel factory in New York. The shutdown in California came almost a full week after local authorities had implemented a shelter-in-place order that forced nonessential businesses to close. Tesla also briefly shut down its newest Gigafactory in China earlier this year, though production there is back up and running.