Hobby Lobby Under Fire for Reopening Stores & Treatment of Employees

By Julie Roys

Hobby Lobby, the popular arts and crafts store owned by outspoken Christians, today is under fire for reopening stores in states with stay-at-home orders in place.

Yesterday, Business Insider reported that Hobby Lobby had quietly resumed business in Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, and North Carolina. The news source also published a leaked memo, from Hobby Lobby Senior VP Randy Betts, telling store managers on what to say if confronted by local authorities:

You and the DM must identify the specific reason within the emergency order that provides that store permission to open.

The reasons could be: because we sell educational materials, because we sell products for home based businesses, or because we sell materials to make PPE (personal protective equipment).

According to WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Hobby Lobby briefly reopened a store in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but was shut down on Tuesday when police determined the store had violated the state’s “Safer at Home” mandate. According to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Hobby Lobby stores are not essential and could be fined $250 and sentenced up to 30 days in jail.

Similarly, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost this afternoon ordered Hobby Lobby to shutter its stores in Ohio.

In a letter to Hobby Lobby’s general counsel, Yost wrote: “It does not appear that Hobby Lobby meets the criteria outlined in the (stay-at-home order). On behalf of the Department of Health, you are ordered to immediately cease and desist operations.”

According to WLKY in Louisville, Kentucky, Hobby Lobby opened a store in Jeffersonville, Indiana, for about an hour on Monday. WLKY said an official from the Clark County Health Department reportedly visited the store and shut it down.

CBS News this morning reported that Hobby Lobby has reopened stores in the Dallas area. Posted on the door of a store in Garland, Texas, was a sign stating, “Operating as an essential business,” and encouraging patrons to stay six feet apart.

Hobby Lobby Employees Upset at Treatment by Christian Employer

Caught in the middle of Hobby Lobby’s openings and closings are employees who are upset with the retail chain, owned by David Green and his family.

The Greens are outspoken Christians and sponsors of the Bible Museum. Founder and CEO David Green is the son of a preacher and is currently listed as Forbes’ 70th wealthiest American with a net worth of $6.3 billion.

David Green

“Last Monday we closed because we were a nonessential business basically, and that was fine with me,” said an employee from Ohio who spoke with Business Insider. “Not even four days later, we’re reopened because they’re saying we’re essential now.”

The employee added that he and his wife are caring for his mother who has multiple sclerosis and he fears catching the virus and bringing it home. “I used to love working for this company,” the man said. “But since this pandemic, I’ve seen how callous and irresponsible it has been.”

Another employee told Business Insider: “This has all been so stressful and exhausting. . . . I don’t want to stay home because I’m too lazy to work. I want to stay home to do my part to stop the spread of the virus.”

Earlier this month, Hobby Lobby made headlines when a March 19 memo by David Green, claiming that God had informed his decision to keep stores open, was widely circulated on Twitter.

“I used to love working for this company. But since this pandemic, I’ve seen how callous and irresponsible it has been.”

At about the same time, another memo from VP Randy Betts to store managers, became public. This memo said that the chain would “make every effort to continue working the employees”

But the memo also said that sick workers would not get sick pay. Instead, they would have to use personal paid time off, vacation pay, or take an “unpaid leave of absence.”

On March 26, Hobby Lobby made headlines again when it announced that it would lay off workers and cut salaries of employees in states where the chain had temporarily closed its stores.

In Oklahoma, 32 employees received a letter from Darsee Lett, David Green’s youngest child, announcing that the layoffs would be permanent at the close of business of March 27.

In the letter, the company did not offer any severance, but instead encouraged employees to file for state unemployment benefits. (An earlier memo from Randy Betts had said that employees placed on leave because their store closed would be paid 75% of their regular rate of pay for two weeks.)  

I have reached out to Hobby Lobby several times for comment, but the company has not replied.

The Termination Letter Sent to Employees in Oklahoma:

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17 thoughts on “Hobby Lobby Under Fire for Reopening Stores & Treatment of Employees”

  1. I believe both Michael’s and Joann’s Fabrics are doing similar. But it seems we are singling out Hobby Lobby. I realize as Christians they have a higher standards but it also seems like an incomplete picture to not point out that their competitors are doing likewise.

  2. For Such A Time As This

    Where do so-called Christians get the idea that “God had informed his decision to keep his stores open…”? I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe God would want us to violate the laws of our land unless it went against our strongly held Christian beliefs. Shelter-in-place, safer-in-place or whatever the state and federal authorities call it, are for the HEALTH AND SAFETY of the American people! Also, I work for a very secular, national health plan who has very specific and generous health care coverage that will cover virtually any and all COVID-19 related illness – whether it be the employees or someone in the employees family. How can the Green family fire these employees who choose to keep themselves and families safe? Every one of these revelations of “Christians” or “churches” who violate the state and/or federal laws in the “name of God” make true Christ Followers the humiliation of an unsaved world that is looking on. During these uncertain times, I believe that the Lord is pruning the Body of Christ to come closer to Him, as well as reach out and share the Good News to an unsaved world. As for me, I will share my faith to those around me but also use wisdom and even common sense to follow what our leaders have put into place….

  3. It is my understanding the Michael’s and Joann Fabrics are doing the same things. While I understand that a Christian company should be held to a higher standard, I feel it is a bit misleading not to point out that Hobby Lobby policies are in line with those of their competitors and industry.

  4. On one hand, I feel wary when businesses are told to “shut down”, and maybe to stay open should be hands of a business, to a point…given they follow guidelines. BUT…the guidelines are there for a good reason and wise to follow. What gets me more is that Hobby Lobby probably has the funds to support its many employees short term (more than 2 weeks) and to open yet lay off looks callous indeed. I do believe Christ is calling us his Church into a pruning and shaping time. Will we be good neighbors? Will we listen to Him?

    1. Well said S. Especially the comment about Hobby Lobby having enough dough to support their employees for more than 2 weeks during this terrible time. WELL SAID!!

    2. Oh and does this goof really expect us to believe that he has a hard wire connection to God who told him to keep his stores open, TOLD HIM!! These are the type of people who drag our wonderful Lord’s name and mission thru the dirt. Money, money, money. Some people got to have it. Some people do bad,bad things with it.

  5. Greed and self-interest. A very, very bad combination. I would just love to unload on these “Christian” high-rollers someday. Really I would.

  6. This termination letter is one of the worst I have ever seen and I have seen plenty from when I worked on mergers and acquisition as an auditor. Even the most black-hearted, mercenary venture capitalists do not respond in such a cut-throat manner, if only because they are trying to not wreck the brand they are seeking to profit off of.

    Hobby Lobby is not giving them any severance or continuation of pay or benefits. None. They are also refusing to offer any form of out-counseling. No letters of reference. They are not offering these people any hope of a future normal leave-taking process, which is essential for the mental health of those being sacked with no warning and for no justifiable cause. The terminated staff weren’t even permitted to pack up their personal belongings. I know people who have been escorted out of buildings by security who were treated better than this. HR professionals realize that treating staff this way can result in very real, long-lasting trauma and PTSD. It’s inhumane.

    Hobby Lobby has over 43,000 employees and does $5B in annual sales. They have a large HR Department. They know exactly how damaging their actions are, yet they are choosing to do it anyway, while simultaneously claiming that “God is guiding and grooming these decisions”. In that same letter David Green bragged about how HL has hardly any debt due to the “fruits of all of your (the staff’s) hard work”. So these cuts are not being made to avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy. The Greens were the sole beneficiaries of all that hard work and are multi-billionaires because of it. Now they can’t even spare what is basically chump change to them, to help soften the blow of an unexpected termination.

    The curious thing about this letter is WHY is Hobby Lobby saying this is a permanent termination when they know that the COVID crisis is a temporary situation? They knew that they were intending to scoff the closure laws (including in Dallas despite saying that was one of the few locations where they would close) and even if they were later forced to close in CA and TX, they know they will be re-opening as soon as possible. As big Trump supporters, the Greens should be believing in that April 30th date. You don’t make a massive single department HQ layoff due to a one month store closure in the field. Did the business need for that department just vanish or is there something else going on?

    Folks, this has all the earmarks of a classic cost retrenchment technique used by mercenary corporations. By “permanently terminating” these 32 employees who worked for the young Darsee Green Lett at the corporate HQ in OK, they are using COVID as an excuse to terminate employees who likely have seniority and have worked long and hard to reach higher pay levels within the org. David Green already stated in his March 19, 2020 letter that he feels that HL “wages and benefits have far exceeded most retailers”. That’s a pretty bold statement to be making at the same time you are screwing your HQ staff out of any well earned severance pay and any semblance of decent resettlement benefits such as out-counseling or resume writing workshops, or health insurance they might actually need to save their very lives. The best they get is a masked man picking up their badge and any company property?

    Hobby Lobby can now use COVID-19 as an excuse to cut costs and avoid paying no severance, like a normal secular corporation would try to do. And for what? Doesn’t HL still need an Art and Creative Dept? Are they planning on outsourcing this to a foreign country, or simply hire gig contractors at a lower rate so they can avoid paying any benefits?

    For the staffers being kept on, in defiance of the shelter in place laws, they are being threatened with termination and told that if they are sick they are not allowed to use any sick time. They must charge any sick time to PTO or vacation time. Why? So when HL terminates them a couple weeks from now, they will have used up the time that would be payable to them by law. Treating employees this poorly is usually something you expect to find in a filthy meat packing plant, not a “Christian” corporation owned by one of the wealthiest families in the world.

    I hope that every single terminated Hobby Lobby employee does their part to keep this story alive. This is the worst form of profiteering. Hobby Lobby paid MILLIONS of dollars to lawyers to receive special designation as the first for-profit corporation to be recognized as having religious beliefs. They did this specifically so that they could avoid having laws apply to them. I’m guessing they are prepared to use that designation to fight any justified EEOC employment law violations that come against them as a result of this heinous treatment towards their very kind, decent and loyal staff.

    1. Jessica Hockett

      Over the past two decades, the Green family has surreptitiously saved well over $100 million in taxes by using inflated appraisals on scores of properties donated to churches and colleges. In 2018, the IRS and DoJ put the kibosh on their scheme and said, “Nope, you’re limited to basis. Dynasty trusts can’t deduct that unrealized gain.”

      Point being, the Greens can afford to give their employees at least some compensation during this shut-down. Instead, they flout government orders and seemingly put profits before people. Awful testimony.

  7. Update on the Dallas area Hobby Lobby stores refusing to close:

    Hobby Lobby had previously stated, in writing, that they would be honoring the Dallas County requirement that they close their stores during the designated shelter in place time period. This week they violated that law and have been operating their stores throughout DFW, having unilaterally declared their operations to be “essential”.

    Today, Judge Clay Jenkins held a press conference to address this. This story was carried on every major news outlet in DFW (the fifth largest metro area in the U.S.) Judge Jenkins is setting the standards with regard to the handling of the COVID crisis for Dallas County. Most of the surrounding counties are following his lead, although some, such as Tarrant Conty (Ft Worth), have tightened the constraints even further.

    Judge Jenkins has been giving regular updates. Some days he looks tired, but today was the only time I have seen him look angry. He stated emphatically:
    “I want to make it clear to Hobby Lobby and anyone who is foolish enough to follow in their footsteps, that in Dallas County, the government and 99.9% of the business community puts public health over profits. And in Dallas County, our law enforcement agencies will ensure that you will abide by the county orders.”

    The reporters said that Hobby Lobby had already been served with a cease and desist order today. HL was refusing to respond to any inquiries regarding this story, which seemed to annoy some of the reporters. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, April 3rd. One of the local news orgs had a live camera at the Southlake store and it looked dead. I’m not sure that whatever small sales figures this law scoffing is bringing in will offset all the permanent damage they are doing to their brand with this poor decision.

    Please keep covering this story Julie, as it continues to develop.

  8. I’m sorry but what you wrote isn’t true. Both Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric only allow curbside pickup. You can place an order online and call them when you get to the store. They bring the items out to the car. No one is allowed inside. My state Attorney General issued Hobby Lobby a cease and desist order yesterday after asking them multiple times to please don’t allow anyone in their stores. Shameful for a so-called Christian company to put money before the health of others.

  9. It is a shame that so few Americans have ever actually studied all of the New Testament passages talking about the rich. I suspect that is because we are such a wealthy nation and do not like what they actually say. The most positive passage just encourages the rich not to trust in their own riches, but in God instead. Read them and you will see that turning yourself into one of the 100 richest men on earth is not a good idea. Do you really want to go through an eye of a needle? Jesus said that you cannot serve God and Mammon. You will love one and despise the other, so if you are really going to love God and serve Him you must choose to despise money. But that is not a way to successfully get rich in our world. The short of it is that while this man claims to be a Christian it is much easier to prove from the scriptures that such a man is a goat or a tare from Jesus’ own words. Just looking at the actions here it looks like the man is a narcissist, which is someone who has the character of Satan and not Jesus. So much for claims of being a Christian.

    Beyond that the business world will have to adapt to the new normal. It is not going to work when half of the US workers live paycheck to paycheck to just lock everyone inside their houses until a vaccine that is safe and well tested comes out next year. The little people do need to work but must do that in ways that are safe in the new realities. Many of our businesses and traditions of ways of doing business are going to have to change. No more packing people in like sardines. Not into stores or movie theaters or stadiums or restaurants and not “churches” anymore either. Virtual jobs, sales and customer service will have to replace the old ways of doing handshakes and being close in to customers. Talking to video screens with those doing the service in a separate room that prevents customers and employees from infecting each other will become the norm. Bigger waiting rooms, you name it. This is our future. More changes to how restaurants prepare food. A whole lot needs to change. If the world looked like that now, the economy would not be collapsing into a greater depression which is where we are headed. Social distancing is going to become normalized in many aspects of our lives. It needs to be that way not just for this pandemic, but also for the next one…

  10. I, for one, wish HL would stop calling itself a Christian company. Many of the employees at my local store are rude & unfriendly. The bathroom is old and dirty so I notified corporate … never heard a word. Now this. No wonder people call us hypocrites.

  11. Here’s my prediction; when the stores reopen, the “permanently terminated” former employees will be offered jobs, with reduced pay and benefits.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy

    When a business self-identifies as CHRISTIAN(TM), guard your wallet.

    The only Christian business I trust is In-N-Out Burgers (local chain here in SoCal), which actually pays and treats its employees the best of all burger chains — benefits, medical, vacation/sick time. And they do NOT put Christianese code words on any of their wrappers or ads.

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