Originally published on May 8, 2020 in full form here.
On May 8th, 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.
As a business, and the humans behind this business, we don’t question the feelings expressed by some of our current and former employees in recent reporting. We respect their feedback and opinions and firmly believe that everyone deserves to be heard.
We also believe in factual reporting, and that is what we are addressing here. This is not a comprehensive list of every error contained in the story, but these are some of the statements that we believe are particularly worthy of correction.
1. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway’s warehouse operations remain open because of loopholes or fulfillment center carve-outs in the executive orders from the governors of the states in which Rent the Runway has warehouses.
Fact: All e-commerce businesses across the U.S. are legally allowed to remain open at this time, regardless of industry — including beauty, skincare, wine & spirits, home goods, sporting equipment, toys & games, gardening supplies, clothing and more.
In addition, executive orders in New Jersey and Texas, where RTR’s warehouses are located, allow all warehouses and fulfillment centers to remain open at this time.
- New Jersey Executive Order 107 allows RTR’s warehouse to remain open, subject to certain precautions (e.g., the reduction of staff). It states: “Examples of employees who need to be physically present at their work site in order to perform their duties include, but are not limited to, law enforcement officers, fire fighters, and other first responders, cashiers or store clerks, construction workers, utility workers, repair workers, warehouse workers, lab researchers, information technology maintenance workers, janitorial and custodial staff, and certain administrative staff.” (emphasis added)
- Texas Executive Order GA-14 allows warehouses to remain open by categorizing them under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, which lists as essential “workers supporting e-commerce through distribution, warehouse, call center facilities, and other essential operational support functions, that accept, store, and process goods, and that facilitate their transportation and delivery.” (emphasis added)
Fact: At the Governor of New Jersey’s May 8th press conference, a reporter asked Governor Murphy directly whether Rent the Runway’s warehouse is legally permitted to remain open. The Governor and his team replied that Rent the Runway is not operating through a loophole, and that Rent the Runway is legally allowed to be open, as are all warehouses in the state of New Jersey. Here is an article that quotes New Jersey’s Director of Communications on the issue, with the relevant section excerpted here.
- “One of the workers who complained to HuffPost said the company had found ‘a loophole’ in Murphy’s executive orders to continue operating. But state officials say that claim just isn’t true. ‘This is a misunderstanding about how the EOs work — this isn’t a loophole,’ Sharon Lauchaire, director of communications for the state, said Friday. ‘Warehouses can continue operating in New Jersey,’ Lauchhaire said, adding that the ‘essential versus nonessential line relates to whether retail can be open to the public.’”
2. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway only provided warehouse associates with two options: 1) work without hazard pay, or 2) stay home and don’t get paid at all.
Fact: In light of COVID-19, RTR offered warehouse associates multiple options, providing flexibility for employees to make the appropriate decision for themselves and their families.
- For warehouse associates who wanted and were able to continue working full or part-time: Warehouse associates who wanted to work, and who felt comfortable doing so, were able to with increased safety measures in place in the warehouses.
- For warehouse associates who did not feel comfortable working, for any reason: Warehouse associates were given the option of choosing not to work, staying home, and using their paid benefits and/or short-term disability benefits, depending on their health needs. 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. All associates’ benefit requests have been approved, and 80% of our warehouse associates have used these paid benefits since the COVID-19 outbreak began.
- For warehouse associates seeking unemployment benefits: Warehouse associates in certain circumstances were eligible under expanded unemployment rules to access additional unemployment benefits through state and federal programs. RTR has answered all unemployment claims filed by warehouse associates within 48 hours.
- For warehouse associates interested in accepting a voluntary furlough in order to seek unemployment benefits: As of May 8, 2020, RTR warehouse associates can opt into a voluntary, unpaid furlough until the end of June 2020, where they will remain a company employee and retain their healthcare benefits while being able to file for unemployment.
Fact: In addition to the several options listed above, Rent the Runway warehouse associates had, and continue to have, the option of applying for unemployment benefits, even if they are working reduced hours, under expanded unemployment programs (see document from State of New Jersey HERE). Employees who have “less hours available due to business slow down or lack of demand” may qualify for unemployment insurance in the State of New Jersey according to the NJ Department of Labor.
3. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway corporate offices were closed, and executives began working from home prior to the closing of any Rent the Runway retail locations.
Facts: RTR’s CEO and members of the senior leadership team were present and working in our NYC corporate headquarters through Friday, March 13—the same day that RTR announced that retail stores would be closing on Monday, March 16. We also announced on March 13th that our customer service team would start mandatory work from home on Monday, March 16. Corporate employees had the option to work from home until RTR’s corporate headquarters were officially closed on March 21st, in advance of “New York State on Pause,” which began at 8PM on March 22nd.
4. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway kept their retail store locations open too long and were not concerned about the wellbeing of Rent the Runway’s retail employees.
Fact: On March 13, 2020, RTR announced the proactive closure of all five retail store locations effective Monday, March 16th — before any state or local mandates to do so, including: New York (March 22nd at 8:00PM), San Francisco County (March 17th at 12:01AM), Illinois (March 21st at 5:00PM) and Washington D.C. (March 25th at 10:00PM).
Fact: RTR proactively closed all five retail store locations before many other retailers, including those that were also ahead of state mandates:
- Nordstrom – closed stores starting March 17th
- Sephora – closed stores starting March 17th
- Macy’s – closed stores at the end of business on March 17th
- J. Crew – closed stores starting March 17th
- H&M – closed stores starting March 17th
- Crate & Barrel – closed stores starting March 18th
- Ralph Lauren – closed stores starting March 18th
- Gap – closed stores starting March 19th
- Ulta – closed stores starting at the end of business on March 19th
- TJ Maxx – closed stores starting March 20th
- Bed, Bath and Beyond – closed stores starting March 23rd
5. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway sent a memo to laid-off employees’ personal emails explaining that their health coverage would expire at the end of April.
Fact: All laid-off employees who were enrolled in RTR health insurance coverage received two months of healthcare benefits through April and May.
6. HuffPost Claim: The Rent the Runway warehouse team is predominantly composed of immigrant workers.
Fact: There is no basis for this statement, as RTR does not track employees’ country of origin. RTR verifies that all employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S.
7. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway did not implement social distancing in its warehouses until late March. Time-stamped photos and video provided show warehouse associates not practicing social distancing and not wearing personal protective equipment such as face masks or gloves.
Fact: RTR has followed relevant CDC health and safety guidelines and local government orders, regarding social distancing and other best practices. We have continued to update our practices and policies as these guidelines have evolved. For example, face masks for non-medical personnel were not recommended by the CDC until new guidelines were issued on April 3rd. New Jersey, where RTR’s primary warehouse is located, issued guidelines about the use of face masks effective April 10th. We have also provided regular communications to our warehouse associates regarding COVID-19-related precautions and practices since late February.
Fact: Without context, the reporter’s inclusion of this photo implies we were somehow mistreating our employees or putting their health at risk. The story completely fails to make reference to the fact that on March 19th – the early stages of the crisis – all businesses, including restaurants, bars, gyms, indoor shopping malls, etc., were permitted to remain open and crowds were permitted to gather. New Jersey Executive Order 107, which closed down nonessential retail and cancelled all gatherings of any number, did not take effect until 9:00 PM on Saturday, March 21st. At the time the photo was taken, there were no requirements that employees wear masks or gloves.
Image 1: Between March 12th and March 16th, in order to keep our warehouses safe, we enacted enhanced cleaning protocols and mandated social distancing measures in all common spaces. We have posted increased signage throughout our warehouse facilities to remind all associates of these health and safety protocols.
Image 2: Between March 17th and March 20th, we rearranged workstations (including placing associates at every-other workstation) and rebalanced shifts to help ensure the recommended 6 foot distance between working employees. Image 3: Between March 20th and March 23rd, we instituted staggered shift-starts and staggered break times to allow for even greater social distancing. Breaks were staggered as to not exceed break room capacities which have been reduced to about 25%. Breakroom tables have been marked with small pieces of tape to indicate where associates should be sitting. At large tables, no more than 3 associates are allowed per table and at small tables, one person is allowed per table. We have a member of management present to provide social distancing reminders. Image 4: On March 23rd, to make social distancing guidelines easier to follow throughout our facilities, we added 6-foot floor markers and reminders for associates. We also instituted mandatory one-way walking paths throughout our warehouses to avoid close personal contact between associates. Image 5: As of April 13th, all warehouse associates and managers have been required to wear and have been given masks and gloves throughout RTR warehouse facilities. Prior to requiring masks and gloves, as of March 16, all associates must also wipe down their stations before and after shifts. No-touch greeting, frequent hand washing and refraining from touching the face is strongly encouraged. Hand sanitizer is widely available including added dispensers at each manager station and at building entry points. We have increased signage as a reminder of good hygiene practices.
8. HuffPost Claim: The Rent the Runway warehouses are potential virus carriers due to the presence of previously-worn clothing.
Fact: According to the CDC, coronavirus transmission happens most frequently through close contact, rather than from touching surfaces such as clothing. Per the CDC, there are no documented cases of coronavirus being transmitted via garments.
We use a variety of techniques to ensure that each garment is thoroughly disinfected, cleaned, steamed and pressed, inspected for quality, and carefully packaged so that it arrives ready to wear. All garments go through a rigorous wet or dry cleaning process. They also go through an additional steaming process which heats items to between 248°F and 302°F with the exception of faux fur, select outerwear, leather, and faux leather garments, which still go through our standard cleaning processes. According to the CDC, flu viruses are killed by heat above 167°F. Every garment is then enclosed in plastic for protection and cleanliness, which we ask customers to return for recycling.
9. HuffPost Claim: Rent the Runway did not provide face masks until mid-April.
Fact: Face masks for non-medical personnel were not recommended by the CDC until new guidelines were issued on April 3rd. New Jersey, where Rent the Runway’s primary warehouse is located, issued guidelines about the use of face masks effective 8:00 PM on Friday, April 10th. RTR provided face masks to all warehouse associates, and required that they be worn, on the morning of Monday, April 13th – the first day that any employee entered the facility after the State of New Jersey’s face mask guidelines were issued. HuffPost’s claim that “face masks were not provided until mid-April” omits the important context that face masks were not recommended or required by official New Jersey State guidelines until April 10th. In fact, government officials had been actively telling the public not to wear masks in the spirit of reserving all PPE for medical professionals.