The Hobby Lobby store in Broken Arrow was closed Thursday morning, following after Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive order calling on all non-essential businesses in the state to close. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

Oklahoma-based retail craft store giant Hobby Lobby began laying some employees off Friday, a day after it shut down its Oklahoma stores and cut affected employee pay in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Hobby Lobby employees told The Frontier that 32 employees in the company’s art and creative department were given notice on Friday that their jobs had been terminated.

“It is with a tremendously broken heart that I’ve been forced to take these unimaginable actions, and I genuinely hope you know that my prayers are with you and your family,” wrote Darsee Lett, vice president of the company’s art and creative division, in a letter to the terminated employees. “It has been such an honor having you on my Team. I truly and deeply appreciate your service to this Department and the Company, and with you the very best as this calamity hopefully ends in the very near future.”

The letter also states that the layoff is permanent, encouraged employees to file for unemployment and stated that a Hobby Lobby representative would come by the employees’ homes to drop off any personal belongings and pick up any Hobby Lobby-issued equipment and badges.

A redacted copy of one of the letters to a Hobby Lobby art and creative department employee who was laid off Friday.

The layoffs come one day after the company, which has more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees across the country, shut down its stores in Oklahoma in response to an executive order issued by Gov. Kevin Stitt ordering all non-essential businesses to close down to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. Hobby Lobby stores in most other states, including Texas, California and New York, have also been shut down, while stores in states such as Minnesota, Arkansas and Georgia remain open.

As of Friday, Oklahoma had 322 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths. Nationwide, there were 85,356 confirmed cases of the disease and 1,246 deaths.

The laid-off Hobby Lobby workers are now the latest casualties of the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. According to U.S. Department of Labor numbers released Thursday, first-time unemployment claims skyrocketed to 3.3 million for the week ending March 21. In Oklahoma, initial unemployment claims increased from the previous week by 965 percent to 17,720 by last Saturday. And those numbers are only likely to increase, as Stitt’s executive order mandating non-essential businesses be closed was not issued until this week.

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Employees told The Frontier Thursday that the retailer had agreed to pay affected employees 75 percent of their normal pay for two weeks, though some Hobby Lobby employees in Oklahoma, such as its e-commece division, which takes and delivers online orders, were given “essential employee” letters and are still required to report to work.

The company came under fire earlier this week after founder and CEO David Green, who has an estimated net worth of more than $6 billion, sent a letter to all Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstore employees a memorandum stating that the company may have to “tighten our belts in the near future” and reminding employees that “God is in control.”

Hobby Lobby has not responded to numerous requests for comment from The Frontier on its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Further reading:

Hobby Lobby CEO urges employees to ‘pray for our health,’ won’t shut down stores

Hobby Lobby shuts down stores across Oklahoma, many employees face pay cuts

Frontier staff writer Brianna Bailey contributed to this report.