Workers at Restoration Hardware were given a letter to show police this week if they were stopped on their way to work in California.
The letter, obtained by HuffPost, argues that employees of the upscale furniture company can work despite a statewide shelter-in-place order prompted by the coronavirus outbreak because they are part of “critical infrastructure.”
“Unless the federal government is ordering furniture, I don’t know what they mean,” said one employee who works in the company’s Tracy, California, call center and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued the executive order on Thursday in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Certain critical sectors have been exempted for obvious reasons, such as emergency services, communications, and food and agriculture.
Grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and some other retail locations have been allowed to stay open.
Restoration Hardware sells high-end furniture, bedding, bath fixtures and lighting through its stores and website. It’s not clear how the company is part of what the state of California describes as “functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”
The letter referred any questions from police to Carrie Cassidy, the company’s “chief people officer,” and David Kolek, its senior counsel. Kolek did not immediately respond to a call on Saturday afternoon.
Cassidy told HuffPost the company had concluded after a legal review that its customer call center was an essential service. Cassidy said customers may be wondering what happened to their orders and the company needs to be able to let them know.
Asked if it was essential that a customer receive a Restoration Hardware order during a pandemic, Cassidy said that if the company’s orders don’t continue to move out of the ports, it could affect the movement of critical items like food and toilet paper.
“We have to move those goods so the ports don’t back up,” she said.
Any employee who does not believe they are filling an essential role is not required to come into work, Cassidy said.
The letter provided to employees claims that Restoration Hardware’s workers fall within two critical sectors: communications and information technology, and transportation and logistics. While some of the company’s employees no doubt have jobs in IT and logistics, the state’s explanation of those sectors pertains mostly to entities that provide communications or logistics, like telecommunications or shipping companies.
HuffPost readers: Has your employer told you your work is “essential” during the pandemic? Tell us about it.
The Restoration Hardware call center employee said their job consists primarily of fielding customer calls about bathroom vanities, bed linens and other home-furnishing products. The worker said dozens of employees were continuing to work close to one another at the call center, in an environment that the worker described as disconcerting during a pandemic.
The call center worker said employees who were uncomfortable coming to work had been using whatever paid sick days or vacation time they had to stay home.
“Most people are scared and nervous. This feels like we really just have dollar signs on our heads,” the employee said, adding: “You try to be polite to people when they have questions about a table lamp. It’s gut-wrenching. I feel like I can’t catch my breath after these calls. I just don’t want to be there.”
The company’s website now features a letter from its chief executive, Gary Friedman, explaining that certain stores had been ordered to close, so the company would be closing all of them nationwide through March 27, “to do our part in the fight against the continued spread of the coronavirus.”
He applauded health care and service workers around the country for soldiering on during a pandemic, as well as his own workforce.
“And thank you to the men and women of team RH who have remained ready and willing to serve our guests during one of the most unsettling and unpredictable times of our lives,” he wrote.
The letter given to employees in California:
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