Earlier today, Rent the Runway CEO & Co-Founder Jenn Hyman sent the following letter to employees to provide more clarity about the decisions we’ve made for our warehouse teammates since the onset of COVID-19. 

Dear Team,

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us all in ways we’d never imagined. An already incredibly difficult situation has been made more challenging by recent media coverage that, unfortunately, relies on inaccuracies to paint a picture of a company I don’t recognize. The HuffPost story from earlier this week contains many factual errors and misrepresents our company and our intentions. I am deeply disappointed that, despite our team’s efforts to set the record straight prior to publication, the outlet chose to run a story that in no way reflects who we are and how we work. I wanted to provide you with just a few examples of their many reporting errors, which you can find here.

The effects of COVID-19 have forced us all to make decisions we never could have contemplated even a few months ago, and in this short period of time, we’ve found ourselves having to choose between a series of terrible options. The decisions we’ve made with respect to our people have been the most difficult of my career. They were motivated by our values and a deep desire to do the best we could in an extremely difficult situation and were made with the information that was available at the time. I fully recognize that our actions have had unintended consequences, and I am heartbroken that some of our warehouse associates are struggling right now as a result of the decisions we made.

The wellbeing of our entire team, especially those working in our warehouses, is of critical importance and has been top of mind as we’ve faced difficult decisions over the last few months. With all of that in mind, I wanted to provide you with more clarity on the decisions we’ve made for our business and our teammates since the onset of COVID-19 and our motivations behind them.

Early on, the first decision we had to make was whether to keep our business operational and what safety measures we needed to immediately put into place to protect our employees. Like all warehouses and e-commerce fulfillment centers, we were, and are, explicitly permitted by the states to continue operating our facilities in New Jersey and Texas. We made the decision to keep our warehouses open for three reasons. First, to be able to continue to pay associates who wanted to come to work. Second, so we could serve our customers who still wanted to use our service during this time. And finally, so we could continue to bring sales into our business to ensure there is a business in the future.

We have been focused on employee safety from the onset of COVID-19 and have been continually evolving our safety protocols to meet or exceed state and federal guidelines. We instituted social distancing measures, staggered shifts and implemented new cleaning protocols throughout our warehouses. Masks and gloves were provided to each associate, and wearing them was, and continues to be, mandatory.

The second set of decisions involved our most valuable asset, our people. As the crisis worsened throughout March, and in an effort to delay any negative impacts to our people, we first cut costs across the company such as marketing, capital expenditures and technology budgets. But by the end of March, as outlooks for reopening grew worse, we had to make the difficult decision to furlough or lay off many employees and reduce pay for those remaining. However, we intentionally prioritized these cuts across the corporate, customer experience and retail teams before making any that would affect our warehouse associates, many of whom we recognized would face the greatest hardships during COVID-19.

Knowing that the decision to keep our warehouses operational would affect each associate differently, we developed a plan guided by the principles of flexibility and choice. In developing this plan, we recognized that each associate’s situation is unique in terms of personal health, family circumstances and level of comfort about working at this time. Faced with the alternative decision to lay off or furlough these warehouse associates in March, we instead offered them the following options:

  • Warehouse associates who wanted to come in and work, and who felt comfortable doing so, were able to.

  • Warehouse associates were also given the option of choosing not to work, staying home and using paid benefits. Each associate has a minimum of 10 days of paid vacation per year with days increasing by tenure, 5 days of paid personal sick leave and another 10 days of paid family care leave. Finally, associates have 20 days of paid bereavement leave. All associates’ benefit requests have been approved and 80% of our warehouse associates have used these paid benefits since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

  • Warehouse associates in certain circumstances were eligible under expanded unemployment rules to also access additional unemployment benefits. We have answered all unemployment claims within 48 hours.

We believe that these choices offer significant flexibility for our warehouse associates. But as the situation continues to evolve, our policies must too. To that end, we are taking additional steps to further support our warehouse team and to build out new programs as we gather more feedback. Here’s what we are committing to immediately:

1. We will kick off a series of in-person meetings and feedback sessions this week and engage in conversations across our operations team to solicit candid feedback. We want to hear from our team members directly and will continue to make updates to our policies based on their input. I will launch this series myself on Monday when I visit our New Jersey warehouse. We will also be conducting employee surveys that can be submitted anonymously.

2. We will pay every hourly warehouse associate who was employed as of March 16th and is still an employee today an additional $500 cash bonus to express our appreciation for their work. This bonus will be paid to all eligible hourly operations associates, regardless of whether they have worked in our warehouses during this period.

3. We will be staffing a nurse on site in both facilities to provide medical care and support to associates starting mid-month. These plans have been underway for some time, but we are working to accelerate this timeline.

4. As of today, warehouse associates can opt into a voluntary, unpaid furlough until the end of June where they will remain a company employee and retain their healthcare benefits while being able to file for unemployment. This is something that’s been in the works for the past few weeks and was announced at our warehouse team stand-ups this morning. Given the continued uncertainty in our business, we may have to initiate an involuntary furlough at a future date.

As I mentioned, I plan to be in our New Jersey warehouse on Monday to connect with our associates and express our appreciation. Brian and I will be hosting a town hall from there, and we’re both looking forward to hearing directly from our warehouse associates about what would be most helpful as we move forward.

This crisis has presented us with incredible challenges, but also with some opportunities for reflection. In these moments, I often find myself feeling unbelievable gratitude for our team. Rolling up our sleeves in the face of the unknown, we’ve come together with passion, determination, and, above all else, love for each other and the company we’re building together.

This difficult situation will eventually pass, but this feeling, and our commitment to doing right by you, never will.

With heartfelt appreciation and gratitude,