Hobby Lobby, one of the few chain retailers to remain open in states where the coronavirus outbreak has not closed non-essential business, is refusing paid sick leave for its employees amid the national economic crisis, according to Business Insider, citing an internal memo issued by the company's executive front office.
The communication to staff came days after the arts-and-crafts company's founder David Green sent a letter to reassure employees, saying God "will guide us through this storm."
Randy Betts, the vice president of store operations for Hobby Lobby, wrote March 23 that the company “is going to make every effort to continue working the employees,” Business Insider reported. Betts stated in the memo that sick workers would either need to exhaust all paid time off and vacation time, or take an “unpaid leave of absence until further notice,” according to Business Insider.
The memo also said if local or federal governments forced a particular store to close, employees would be required to use “all available paid time off benefits” and become eligible for 75% of regular pay after that. Further, the memo said, the emergency pay would be determined by “average hours” worked during the previous six weeks, rather than an employee’s full schedule of regular work shifts, Business Insider reported.
A report by The Daily Mail points to the company's benefits package, which states that only salaried employees are eligible for sick leave.
The company's website assures customers that it is safe to keep shopping, and that it's taking measures such as "enhanced cleaning" to prevent any spread of the virus at its stores.
“If an employee is suspected of having COVID-19 based on symptoms and/or known direct or indirect exposure, we will send that employee for medical care and to self-isolate at home, and will promptly coordinate with public health officials,” the company said in its “Notice Regarding COVID-19 Virus” on its website.
At our morning team huddle, we discuss stories that are “talkers.” People are primed to look for driving forces in the world, ones that we can explain through our collective experience. This is one example.
The Business Insider report quoted one of the store’s district managers, who said in an email that he felt “very anxious about this whole situation.”
“Our management has doubled down on the work stance, and the district manager has said that our stores will remain open until the National Guard comes in and physically shuts the buildings down,” the employee wrote on condition of anonymity, Business Insider reported.
Hobby Lobby, closed Sundays to allow employees time for family and worship. Open during a pandemic because our morals aren’t really all that great. pic.twitter.com/zA4pbCkPcB— Neil Saunders (@NeilRetail) March 20, 2020
Hobby Lobby has about 43,000 employees at 900 stores in 46 states.
CBS News reported the chain had closed some locations around the country to adhere to legally required closures, but many remain open for business.
Green’s letter to employees dated March 19 said his wife, Barbara, had received a message from God telling the chain to stay open.
"We serve a God who will Guide us through this storm, who will Guard us as we travel to places never seen before, and who, as a result of this experience, will Groom us to be better than we could have ever thought possible before now," according to The Christian Post. "We may all have to 'tighten our belts' over the near future," he said.
The Daily Mail reported many store employees interpreted Green’s message to mean they would have divine protection from the virus.
The Oklahoma-based retailer won a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling exempting the company from providing certain contraceptive coverage for employees.
Locations in metro Atlanta are open in Alpharetta, Atlanta, Austell, Canton, Cartersville, Douglasville, Duluth, Dunwoody, Hiram and Kennesaw.
Hobby Lobby’s hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturdays. The store is closed Sundays.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution