While numerous businesses around the country are closing in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the founder CEO of Oklahoma City-based national chain of craft stores, Hobby Lobby, told employees last week to “pray for our health” but stopped short of ordering its stores to close during the pandemic.
In a March 19, 2020, memorandum Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstores founder and CEO David Green sent to all employees and obtained by The Frontier, Green states that both the company and the country “will sustain and thrive again soon” and that God is in control.
Hobby Lobby has more than 900 locations and more than 43,000 employees across the country and an estimated $5 billion in sales. Hobby Lobby employees in states and cities that have issued “shelter in place” orders — such as all of California and Dallas, Texas, said the stores in those locations would be closed because of those respective orders.
However, in other locations where no such order has been issued, the stores remain open.
The existence of the memos was previously reported by The Lost Ogle.
Many local and national retailers — Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Apple, Bath & Body Works and numerous others — have closed their stores nationwide in an attempt to help stop the spread of the virus, and many of those retailers have agreed to provide up to two weeks full pay and benefits for effected employees.
Calls and messages sent by The Frontier to Hobby Lobby’s corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City were not returned Monday.
A post on the company’s website from last Tuesday, the most recent public update about the company’s response to the pandemic, states that the company is closely monitoring the latest developments, has increased the frequency of store cleanings and has taken steps to reduce the chance of employees contracting the virus by restricting employee travel and sending employees for medical care and self-isolation of they show symptoms of COVID-19.
In the March 19 memorandum to all employees, Green, who often incorporates Christian theology in his business, wrote that his wife Barbara “is the prayer warrior” and that God put in her head that he would guide the company through the pandemic, guard the company and would groom the company “to be better than we could have ever thought possible before now.”
In the memo, Green also states that company leadership is doing all it can “to balance the need to keep the Company strong and the needs of the employee,” but alluded that things may get difficult.
“To help ensure our Company remains strong and prepared to prosper once again when this passes, we may all have to ‘tighten our belts’ over the near future,” the memo states.
Green, 78, was ranked No. 70 in the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans and No. 209 in Forbes’ ranking of wealthiest people in the world, with an estimated net worth of $6 billion, with some of those funds being held in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
In a March 10 memo from Green to all Hobby Lobby and Mardel personnel obtained by The Frontier, Green states that employees who show symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 or have family members in the home diagnosed with the disease should stay home and they will be provided with a leave of absence.
“Employees placed on a leave of absence may use any available PPTO (Personal Paid Time Off)/Sick Pay or other applicable paid leave benefits. If other forms of applicable leave are exhausted, employees may be provided with an additional leave of absence as an accommodation.”
According to Hobby Lobby’s 2017 benefits guide, full-time salaried employees are provided with up to 48 hours per year of sick/personal leave per year, while full-time hourly employees can earn up to 48 hours of personal paid time off per year in most states Hobby Lobby operates in. For Hobby Lobby stores in California, Oregon, Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and in the cities of Spokane and Tacoma, Wash., and Deerfield Illinois, both hourly and salaried employees can earn up to 80 hours of sick leave or personal paid time off, according to the benefits guide.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed into a law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which goes into effect April 2 and would provide two weeks of paid sick leave for people who have been diagnosed or quarantined because of the coronavirus or of the person is caring for a family member with the disease, as well as 12 weeks of paid sick leave for those caring for a child while school is closed.
However, the measure, which both of Oklahoma’s senators voted against, does not apply to companies with 500 or more employees, which would include Hobby Lobby.
The first memo sent by Green to all Hobby Lobby and Mardel employees on March 4 encourages employees to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay at home if sick, cover coughs and sneezes with tissue and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily.
The March 4 memo also stated that a moratorium on all international travel and non-essential domestic air travel was in place for employees.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the coronavirus,” the March 4 memo from Green states. “The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is one of many types of viruses, and they are fairly common.”
On March 10, Green issued another all-employee memo, this one stating that employees who become sick or have a sick family member should use their accrued paid time off or, for salaried employees, sick leave.
The Hobby Lobby memos obtained by The Frontier also show that Green did not begin asking its employees to begin “social distancing” — which includes keeping at least six feet between people, avoiding face-to-face meetings and practicing non-physical greetings — until last Thursday, and the memo obtained by The Frontier was addressed only to Hobby Lobby executive office employees in Oklahoma City.
It is unclear whether a similar memo was sent to all of the company’s employees and those in stores around the nation encouraging social distancing.
However, by that point, the mayors of both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, as well as several other cities in Oklahoma, had already issued emergency proclamations ordering restaurants and gyms to close. The memo came on the same day that California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a “shelter in place” order for the entire state, shutting down non-essential businesses.
While numerous cities in Oklahoma have issued executive orders closing businesses such as restaurants with only dine-in options, gyms, entertainment venues and others, many outside the major metro areas have yet to issue similar proclamations.
During a press conference Sunday evening, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he has no immediate plans to order a statewide mandate for the closure of non-essential businesses, and called for businesses to “innovate” to help stop the spread of the virus.
“There may be a time we have to do other things,” Stitt said. “That time is not right now.”