‘Literally Impossible:’ Labcorp Workers Say Productivity Goals Are Pushing Them to the Brink

Ten Labcorp workers told 404 Media that Amazon-like productivity goals at the clinical lab giant are squeezing them for profits in a way that could put patients at risk.
‘Literally Impossible:’ Labcorp Workers Say Productivity Goals Are Pushing Them to the Brink
Image: Michelle Urra.

This piece is published with support from The Capitol Forum.

Somewhere in the bowels of a Labcorp drug testing facility in Madison, Wisconsin, which one worker described to me as “the bunker,” is a severed human finger encased in wax. The finger, which workers presume was once attached to a former Labcorp worker at that location, was kept in the office of a “post-life” department supervisor who showed it to many new employees as part of their safety orientation. 

Two workers in this part of the lab said that the finger was trotted out as a kind of warning. Workers in the “post life” department process dead animals Labcorp tests drugs on by slicing them into thin sections, a technique known as microtomy. The workers said that, to meet productivity goals, they had to perform precise work at a fast pace, slicing off sections of dead dogs, rats, and monkeys preserved in pungent formalin, embedding them in wax, and then slicing them into micrometer-thin sheets that are mounted to slides that can be examined under a microscope. Workers who exceeded their goals were considered for promotions, while workers who didn’t meet them were chided by managers.

But workers also had to be careful as they operated heavy machines that oriented the encased tissue samples by millimeters for accurate slicing and as they changed the machines’ blades frequently (“every 20 minutes,” one employee said), which was necessary to keep cutting precisely.  

“There's a fixed blade in place, very sharp blades, that definitely accidentally cut a few people,” one Labcorp employee said. “Nobody lost a finger while I was there but it definitely happened before. One of the department supervisors actually had somebody's finger just in his office mounted in the wax. Kind of just to illustrate what can happen, but I don't know why he wanted to keep that as a souvenir necessarily. He loves showing it to people.”

Three sources who worked at the Madison lab, formerly a Covance lab acquired by Labcorp in 2014, said that the company’s obsession with productivity resulted in them rushing and making mistakes. 

One former Labcorp employee who left the company to do a very similar job elsewhere said that at their current, non-Labcorp lab they process four to six mice in about four hours. At Labcorp, they said, it was normal for a single worker to process 10 mice in three hours.

“It’s just a complete change of pace, more of an emphasis on collecting the tissue as perfectly as we can rather than as fast as we can,” they said of their current employer. “Because when you prioritize speed and numbers over everything you make a lot more mistakes.”

“You're supposed to be a scientist doing research that's going to determine whether or not certain pharmaceuticals will make it to market,” another source at the Madison lab said. “But the way it's set up is that you're only going to get ahead if you cut corners […] to me, it doesn't feel like it's really researching anything, it feels more like you're just a sample monkey.”

Labcorp’s CEO and chairman Adam Schechter described the company as “the world’s largest laboratory service provider.” It provides routine diagnostic tests that most people get as part of their healthcare, as well as workplace drug testing and drug development. Recently, Labcorp has become the biggest clinical laboratory company in the United States in terms of employees and market cap following a series of acquisitions, and Quest Diagnostic is its closest competitor. 

Overall, 404 Media talked to 10 current and former Labcorp employees from across the country, most of whom work on patient testing either by drawing blood, working at blood banks, or analyzing blood, urine, and other samples to diagnose various medical conditions. 404 Media granted all of them anonymity because they feared retaliation from Labcorp. Despite working at different locations and performing different roles, all of them described a corporate culture that relentlessly prioritized productivity in a way they fear could come at the expense of patients. 

“We aren't getting rest, we aren't stopping, we aren't really eating, we're not drinking water.”

Labcorp did not respond to multiple requests for comment over email, phone, and Linkedin.

“It was kind of like an Amazon warehouse,” one Labcorp worker said. “I like that kind of environment where you're trying your best to work as fast as possible in the most efficient way. It's like a puzzle. But it was literally impossible to do the amount of work they expected you to do, and I've worked in high volume places.”

Are you aware of testing mistakes at Labcorp? Are you a courier for Labcorp? Using a non-work device, you can message me securely on Signal at (609) 678-3204. Otherwise, send me an email at

All Labcorp workers I talked to said the challenges they faced are not unique to lab technicians at Labcorp. Many said that the other clinical laboratory giant, Quest Diagnostics, has similar problems. Clinical labs, like other parts of the healthcare industry, have been understaffed for years, and pay isn’t high enough to replenish their ranks. Many workers have been pushed to their limits by the pandemic. But they all said that Labcorp, which is increasingly consolidating lab work across the country by acquiring smaller labs and labs from financially struggling hospitals, is making those problems worse. Multiple sources said that Labcorp’s reputation in the field is so bad that sometimes lab techs quit as soon as they learn their lab is acquired by Labcorp. I’ve also seen emails from Labcorp management addressing staffing shortages, overtime, and employee burnout.

Quest Diagnostics did not respond to requests for comment. 

Multiple sources said that part of the reason these poor working conditions persist is that lab workers are out of the public’s sight and mind, and their importance is not well understood—lab workers serve a vital function in the diagnosis process and the healthcare system at large. Consequently, chronic overwork among lab workers can lead to errors, and, potentially, bad outcomes for patients.