I will be the first to admit it was much easier to compile a list of ten businesses that handled COVID-19 the worst, rather than the best. In researching this article I had my own personal list of ten businesses that I felt did a terrible job, but after consulting social media I was forced to rethink a few that had made it onto both my good and bad lists.
That being said, I also tried to think critically of whether or not I felt that a company was truly doing a bad job at handling public relations during the COVID-19 crisis, or if I—and my peers—were unfairly criticizing a business that was doing the best that it could given the unprecedented circumstances.
Some businesses, like Starbucks, have tried hard to do the right thing by offering to pay employees whether or not they show up to work. However, an investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed that the policy only came after employees were asked to work despite showing symptoms of COVID-19 for weeks prior—likely contributing to the spread of the virus during one of the most pivotal periods of time.
Other businesses that were initially included on this list ended up changing their policy before we published this article. One corporation in particular changed its policy on the same day that we had emailed them asking for a comment in response to an anonymous claim from an employee at one of their stores. Employees were allegedly told by their managers that they would have to show up for work or face getting fired, effectively disqualifying them from receiving unemployment. The company has since updated how it’s handled COVID-19 to allow significant leave for employees that feel they should not be exposed to a retail environment during this time.
It has become abundantly clear that a good public relations and marketing team is the determining figure in whether or not a business will survive in a post-COVID world. In the face of a pandemic, businesses that approached public relations from a side of both moral obligation and empathy for public health managed to not only skirt past the wave of bad press, but come out on top as consumers are pledging to support businesses that have, in their eyes, responded well in the face of crisis.
After careful consideration while folding my laundry from my new home office this is the list I came up with using the recommendations I got from social media regarding which businesses handled COVID-19 badly:
Are you employed by a company that has made you feel unsafe throughout the COVID-19 outbreak? Email [email protected], all tips will be kept anonymous unless otherwise specified.
That’s right. Disney is receiving criticism for the way it handled COVID-19 after it waited until the last minute to close the doors to its parks. The company was apparently exempt from Orange County’s gathering bans back in the early days of the virus outbreak in the United States, but Disney quickly changed its decision after receiving backlash online and in the press.
Even then, Disney’s former and longtime CEO, Bob Iger, suddenly stepped down back in February just before the stock exchange saw a historical fall. Iger and other executives have revealed that they took a pay cut in recent weeks in order for the company to compensate workers while the parks are closed and not making money. One Twitter user named @kyayigirl pointed out that as many as 10% of park employees have been underpaid so severely in recent years that they’ve been forced to live out of their cars. One homeless cast member at Disneyland in Anaheim, California suffered death in 2018 as a result of living in her vehicle.
As it relates to the COVID-19 outbreak, Disney’s decision to wait until the last possible minute to close its doors likely fueled the outbreak around the world—or at least within the United States. The park is often one of the first places that foreign tourists check off of their bucket lists when arriving in Los Angeles or anywhere along the east coast. Several recent park guests in the United States have reported falling seriously ill with the virus shortly after visiting either Disneyland in California or Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Many online retailers have managed to skirt past the closures imposed on their brick and mortar competitors because they don’t welcome customers into their building in order to operate. Such is the case with ASOS, a massive online clothing retailer founded and based in the U.K. As the United Kingdom faces an influx of new cases each day, though, ASOS employees have revealed that their employer is doing less than it should to keep them safe.
In multiple reports from employees at the company and unions associated with retail and warehouse workers in the United Kingdom, the company faces allegations of disallowing their employees to wear protective equipment on the job. One Facebook post from a union group called GMB revealed that as many as three ambulances were called to an ASOS fulfillment center in a town called Barnsley in a single day over an alleged COVID-19 outbreak within the warehouse.
The company’s CEO took to twitter to refute the claims, but never clarified what, exactly, the company was doing to protect its workers at this time. In the meantime? ASOS has been using self isolation as a marketing opportunity to sell more loungewear on its Facebook page.
Virgin Atlantic & Boeing
While the airline industry represents a major source of the world’s jobs and a signal of a bustling economy, some airlines and aircraft makers are responding better than others in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. United Airlines, for example, pledged to continue to pay its workers despite a lower demand in travel in recent weeks, with its CEO promising to take a pay cut to even out the costs. The company also announced weeks ago that it would waive flight-change fees in the wake of the crisis, though it was still subject to criticism regardless.
This is one example of a company doing what it can, while others in the same industry have chosen to go the route of mass layoffs or taking government bailouts in exchange for 0% equity (we’re looking at you, Boeing). Virgin Atlantic, one of the world’s leading global airlines, announced it would be going through mass layoffs as it cuts back on nearly 75% of its services around the world.
Few companies have managed to survive despite a constant stream of bad publicity in the way that Hobby Lobby has, somehow, managed to stay afloat in recent years. The company is so well-known for its bad publicity at this point that its Wikipedia page serves almost exclusively as a log for all of its scandals over the last couple of decades.
Among the illegal antiquities trading scandal, the health insurance scandal, the Dead Sea Scrolls scandal, and the fact that the company refuses to carry products relating to Jewish holidays (an irony, considering its CEO David Green once touted his collection of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments that have now been confirmed as worthless frauds) lies a new story about Hobby Lobby’s response to COVID-19.
Green, in a rumored letter to staff, urged employees to continue to work despite business shutdowns around the United States. Many locations that have now been closed by local police departments reveal that Green allegedly told his staff to stay open, citing that his wife received word from god that it would be ok to do so.
Landry’s, the restaurant chain behind themed restaurants like Rainforest Cafe and other restaurants found around Disney property in Orlando, Florida, allegedly asked employees to come in to some locations and clean the restaurants before they were told they were being laid off, effective immediately.
Coworking spaces are seeing a unique problem arise in the wake of a global pandemic as WeWork faces criticism for charging rent to its clients in New York City amid a city-wide lockdown that prevents tenants from accessing the space at all. While some co-working companies are facing issues with getting their tenants to work from home, WeWork has shut its doors completely but will still collect rent from its tenants, according to the New York Post just a couple of days ago.
Since the ethos of the company is essentially to bring people together that would otherwise be working from their homes or in coffee shops, social media users have pointed out that its spaces are not exactly ideal for abiding by social distancing measures. Nevertheless, the now desperate company is still strapped for cash after 2019 nearly killed it once and for all.
The Guardian revealed recently that the company is doing all that it can to avoid refunding its tenants by instructing its staff on how to claim that its services are essential. Even then, some locations have faced closures but will not refund their renters. Even as some staff members tested positive, the company handled COVID-19 with the idea that it would be a passing phase that should not disrupt operations.
A Vice News article that was published recently outlined the ways in which the toxic internal company culture at GameStop prevented employees from feeling safe while working during the initial days of how it handled COVID-19. Reports that employees were accused of having a bad work ethic and using the pandemic as an excuse not to come to work, offering no paid time off options, or fostering a company culture that allowed for managers to mistreat their employees are among just a couple of the many reasons that GameStop has been talked about on social media for the last couple of weeks. The company, which fought for “essential business” status in many places that have been forcing non-essential businesses to close, reportedly told its employees to wrap their hands in plastic bags for protection.
Amazon has been receiving criticism for its workplace conditions for years now and now it’s in the news for how it’s handled COVID-19. The company, which allegedly forces its fulfillment center workers to reach unattainable goals on a regular basis has, unsurprisingly, been swamped with more traffic than ever as businesses are forced to shut down around the United States. The company revealed recently that it would be cutting back on allowing shipments of non-essential items to its fulfillment centers as it scrambles to try and meet the needs of its customers seeking essential items like toilet paper, cold medicines, and other essential home goods.
Walmart was one of the many companies that were initially part of President Trump’s attempt to control the spread of the virus a couple of weeks ago in how it handled COVID-19. The CEO of the company appeared on the President’s daily briefings earlier in March to reveal how Walmart would be working with the CDC to offer things like testing centers in Walmart parking lots.
Since then, though, employees at Walmart locations around the country have tested positive while store locations remain open. The company announced just two days ago that it would begin taking employee temperatures when they come in for work, but with workers in fulfillment centers being forced to work within close proximity of one another, those without symptoms could be aiding in the spread of the virus without having a fever.
That being said, Walmart is one of the few companies on this list that does qualify as an essential business without question. Many Americans are unable to access things like fresh food and healthcare products without their local Walmart. This is one situation that goes to show how difficult it is to navigate running a business in the wake of a pandemic as serious as COVID-19. The company has promised as much as $550 million in special cash bonuses, making up for the fact that essential workers are largely underpaid during a time when their presence is needed most.