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In leaked memo, Hobby Lobby refuses to give workers paid sick leave during coronavirus pandemic

Business Insider India logoBusiness Insider India 23-03-2020 Bethany Biron

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  • In a memo to Hobby Lobby store managers obtained by Business Insider, vice president of operations Randy Betts wrote that sick workers will be required to use personal paid time off and vacation pay, or else take an "unpaid leave of absence until further notice."
  • In the case of a mandated store closure, Hobby Lobby will offer emergency pay only after paid time off and vacation days have been depleted, and then will offer 75% of the regular rate of pay based on an average of shifts from the previous six weeks.
  • "The district manager has said that our stores will remain open until the National Guard comes in and physically shuts the buildings down," a Hobby Lobby manager told Business Insider, speaking on the basis of anonymity to protect his job.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hobby Lobby is not only fighting to keep stores open as the coronavirus spreads across the US, but also refusing to give its employees immediate paid sick leave if they fall ill.

In a memo sent to store managers on March 23 and obtained by Business Insider, Hobby Lobby vice president of store operations Randy Betts wrote the company "is going to make every effort to continue working the employees." In the case of illness, Betts wrote that sick workers will be required to use personal paid time off and vacation pay, or else take an "unpaid leave of absence until further notice."

"Employees on unpaid leave are encouraged to contact their local unemployment offices to determine whether they are eligible for unemployment benefits," Betts wrote in the memo.

According to the memo, if a store is required to close due to a state or federal mandate, employees will first be required to use "all available paid time off benefits." After those resources are depleted, workers will then be eligible for "emergency pay" in which they will receive just 75% of their regular rate of pay and the payments will be made not based on scheduled shifts, but rather "on the average hours during the previous six weeks."

A Hobby Lobby district manager, who spoke on the basis of anonymity to protect his job and whose employment status was confirmed by Business Insider, wrote in an email that he feels "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.

Hobby Lobby did not respond to Business Insider's request to comment on the memo. Additionally, when Business Insider called the number for the Hobby Lobby human resources department listed as a resource for employees in the memo, an automated message said it was "experiencing abnormally large call volumes at this time" before proceeding to voicemail.

Hobby Lobby drew widespread condemnation on Sunday in response to a message reportedly sent to store employees from Hobby Lobby founder David Green. In the letter, Green allegedly wrote that his wife Barbara received a message from God that informed his decision to leave stores open.

"In her quiet prayer time this past week, the Lord put on Barbara's heart three profound words to remind us that He's in control. Guide, Guard, and Groom," Green reportedly writes. "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."

Green is said to have told employees that the company can "rest in knowing that God is in control" and said that Hobby Lobby may have to "tighten our belts" moving forward.

Read the full memo to Hobby Lobby managers, below:

To: All Store Managers

From: Randy Betts

Ref: Employee Leave Due to Covid-19

Date: March 23, 2020

Our job has always involved taking care of our people. With the COVID-19 situation evolving very second, we need to take time to review how our current Leave Policies, PPTO benefits or Vacation will help take care of our employees during this time. In addition, the company has outlined additional provisions that we will refer to as Emergency Pay.

This memo outlines the Company's policy, effective March 23, 2020, relating to employees placed on leave because of COVID-19-related reasons. This policy remains effective until further notice.

Store Closing

Once a store is closed to the public by order of federal, state, or local authorities, the Company is going to make every effort to continue working the employees, if the employee is allowed to travel to/from work. If it is necessary for the Company to place employees on leave because the store is subject to mandatory closing, after exhausting all available paid time-off benefits (e.g., Vacation Pay, Personal Time Off, Personal/Sick Pay), will be eligible for emergency pay continuation.

Emergency Pay will be made available for all full-time and part-time employees placed on leave because the store is subject to a mandatory closing. These employees will receive 75% of their regular rate of pay for two weeks following the exhaustion of all available paid time off benefits. The rate of pay for all part-time and full-time employees will be based on the average hours during the previous six weeks. The use of paid time-off benefits in conjunction with the emergency pay continuation provided by this policy must be used in 8-hour increments.

Employees unable to work due to specific related reasons to the Covid-19 event

Below is a brief outline of when to request PPTO or Vacation to use for continued pay, we have an unpaid leave of absence we can offer as well. These options can be used when the employee has a positive test result for Covid-19, suspected illness to Covid-19 and/or other approved personal reasons to request leave under our current polices [sic].

  • Use Personal Paid Time Off (PPTO)
  • Use Vacation Pay; or
  • Unpaid leave of absence until further notice.

Employees on unpaid leave are encouraged to contact their local unemployment offices to determine whether they are eligible for unemployment benefits.

This program does not modify or impact the Company's existing paid-time off policies. This is in addition to those policies. Pay continuation under this program is not an earned wage under any applicable law and will not be used for purposes of calculating overtime. Any unused pay continuation under this program will expire immediately upon the Company's termination of the program. Employees will not be paid for an unused pay continuation under this program on termination. Employees do not accrue or earn any vested benefit under this Program.

Management will be provided with guidance to determine whether to direct employees to contact Human Resources to request time off, a leave of absence, or an accommodation related to COVID-19. Management is still required to promptly report all COVID-19-related incidents and potential exposures to Human Resources at (405) 745-1515. Specifically, contact Human Resources in the following circumstances:

  • If an employee or customer reports that he/she has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • If an employee reports a member of his/her household has been diagnosed with or may have been exposed to COVID-19;
  • If an employee reports he/she or a member of his/her household recently had cruise travel or traveled to an area with widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission of COVID-19, which currently includes China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Green, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Republic of Ireland;
  • If an employee has or reports that he/she has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, which CDC advises are fever, cough, and shortness of breath;
  • If an employee's answers to the screening questions indicate that the employee should request time off, a leave of absence, or an accommodation related to COVID-19.

If circumstances require a change to this policy, you will be notified promptly. Thank you for your service to the Company, especially during this challenging time.

Randy Betts

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