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Urban Outfitters exec orders employees to work — because customers with coronavirus pose ‘very low risk’

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Urban Outfitters employees are being forced to come into work in Philadelphia while their superiors claim anyone testing positive for the coronavirus isn’t really a risk to the staff, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.

One staffer got a returned item package from someone who said they had the virus. It had a note on it reading, “I’d typically take to store, but we have come in contact with virus and are taking zero risks of spreading.” The staffer was scared to touch the package, but his boss ordered him to.

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This week, staff got a note in the headquarters in Philadelphia, “Unfortunately, we have had our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in an employee from the Navy Yard” campus, said the email. Employees have been forced to work whether they’re afraid or not.

“Urban Outfitters Inc. — which also encompasses such brands as Anthropologie, Free People, BHLDN, and Terrain — rang up almost $4 billion in sales in the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2019, its most recent annual report,” wrote The Inquirer. “The company was one of the first retailers to close its stores to the public as social distancing measures took hold, and has now pinned its hopes on e-commerce.”

So, dozens of employees are still forced to show up to work at Urban Outfitters and their other places.

“The company says it’s in compliance with city orders to close ‘nonessential’ businesses and state orders to close business that aren’t ‘life-sustaining,’ noting there are exceptions to those orders,” the report revealed. ‘We are carefully reviewing and following state and local executive orders across the country on an hourly basis,’ a spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.”

It flies in the face of what experts are recommending.

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“There is nothing life-sustaining about it. We are literally renting out clothes to slightly privileged people,” said one worker at the Nuuly warehouse’

When asked for comment, Urban Outfitters told the Inquirer that the employees can use their vacation or sick leave if they are scared to come into work. They went on to say this is their example of taking “our employees’ health and well-being most seriously.”

“We understand how, on the surface, some might consider online fashion retailing to be nonessential, but the reality is that COVID-19 is a serious threat not only to our health but also to our economy,” the statement said.

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Mayor Jim Kenney ordered all nonessential businesses to close. The company responded saying it didn’t believe they had to comply completely. Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) also demanded that businesses that are not “life-sustaining” close so employees can comply with stay-home orders. Urban Outfitters told the employees that they were “exempt, and could stay open under such categories as ‘electronic shopping and mail-order houses,’ and ‘warehousing and storage,’ according to an email to staffers,” the report said.

One worker explained, “There is nothing life-sustaining about it. We are literally renting out clothes to slightly privileged people.”

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“These clothes are coming from New York, Vegas, Minnesota, all over,” said one employee. “We’re still in the beginning of this pandemic, and we don’t know if these clothes have been exposed to the virus.”

The company said that anyone in the warehouse that doesn’t feel comfortable working can use their vacation or sick leave to stay at a safe distance.

“Even somebody who confirms that they have COVID-19 in your studio that day … that’s low risk, it’s very low risk,” said Urban Outfitter’s chief development officer David Ziel.

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The company then attacked employees who spoke out. Before the Inquirer published the report, Urban Outfitters sent an email to employees saying, “the decision of a small number of employees to leak internal documents and surreptitious recordings of management to the press was selfish and shortsighted.”

Urban Outfitters have struggled with a number of public relations disasters over the years. They offered a Kent State University shirt that appeared like it was covered in blood, selling a t-shirt claiming that voting is for old people, and the time they offered a Holocaust tapestry with a pink triangle.

Read the full report at The Philadelphia Inquirer.


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