Corporate beauty employees say they were being discouraged to work from home during the coronavirus outbreak

  • Editor’s note: After this piece was published, a Shiseido Americas spokesperson said they were sending employees home, though it’s unclear for how long. Insider has reached out to Sephora for more info. The original story appears below.
  • As the coronavirus pandemic continues, beauty retailers are slowly implementing policies that help protect employees and shoppers from becoming ill.
  • However, some employees working at corporate levels say they’re being discouraged from taking certain preventative measures, like working from home.
  • People who claim to be employees of Sephora, Shiseido, and LVMH also reached out to Estée Laundry, an Instagram account that shares beauty-industry news and gossip.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Editor’s note: After this piece was published, a Shiseido Americas spokesperson gave the below statement to Insider:

“The health and safety of our employees and our organization remains our top priority. Shiseido is monitoring this rapidly evolving situation carefully, and we are reviewing and adjusting our internal policies accordingly as needed. As of March 12, Shiseido Americas has implemented a work-from-home policy for all employees working in office-based departments and teams. We will continue to implement protocols and processes in response to the spread of the virus.”

The original post appears below.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.

Since then, sports seasons have been suspended, travel to Europe has been banned in the US, and famous actors have been diagnosed with the virus. The entire country of Italy is also still on lockdown as a precaution.

But despite health concerns rising around the world, some corporate employees of major beauty companies say they’re being discouraged from taking precautions that could protect themselves from the virus.

Speaking to Insider, a corporate Sephora employee said they felt discouraged against working from home, despite coronavirus concerns in their city

Sephora’s North American headquarters are located in San Francisco, California, where at least 14 people have tested positive for coronavirus at the time of writing. In total, the state of California had at least 177 positive cases as of Tuesday.

Speaking to Insider, a Sephora employee working at the brand’s headquarters said that despite the virus spreading throughout the city they work in, working from home was originally discouraged, as it would have seemed “unfair” to retail employees who can’t do the same. To protect their job, the employee asked to remain anonymous, though their identity is known to Insider.

“I think cities where there have been confirmed cases and exposure, like San Francisco, should allow store cast members to stay home and close stores,” the employee said. “For those of us here at HQ, we should all be working from home because we all have laptops and can use VPN to continue working and do video or group calls.”

“We have seen tons of companies around us in the Financial District ask their employees to work from home since a week or more ago, but not Sephora,” the employee continued. “You have to imagine that the longer they don’t ask us to work from home and the more companies that do ask this of their employees, it suggests that maintaining profits and market share is more important than employees.”

A representative for Sephora told Insider that corporate employee

“At this time, Sephora’s corporate offices remain open and operational-a position that is consistent with many other Bay Area retail headquarters, city offices, and public schools. However, this is a quickly evolving situation, and we will continue to monitor and assess. In the meantime, our policy is that we fully support our employees to work remotely and make flexible-hours arrangements with their teams if they choose. In addition, any employee who is sick or quarantined will be paid.”

A view of a Sephora store.

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A view of a Sephora store.
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Sorbis/Shutterstock

Still, the company had taken some early measures to protect corporate employees.

“So far, they have put a bottle of hand sanitizer on each desk and sent emails on the importance of washing our hands and avoiding shaking hands,” the employee said. “They have advised that no one is to travel internationally for Sephora business right now, and if we do so for personal reasons – which they strongly advise against – we must notify our managers.”

According to the employee, any corporate Sephora employee who travels must self-quarantine for two weeks once they’re back home. They said the company is also “limiting domestic travel” unless it’s “critical.”

Sephora does have plans in place to protect retail employees and shoppers from getting coronavirus

On Wednesday, Sephora president and CEO Jean-André Rougeot emailed a statement to shoppers regarding the company’s virus-related policies. According to his statement, Sephora is following preventative measures suggested by the CDC, WHO, and local governments.

New in-store safety protocols have also been put in place, according to Rougeot’s email. Some of those include: regularly disinfecting “high-touch areas,” making hand sanitizer readily available, cleaning product testers multiple times per day, and increasing store cleanings. The retailer has also suspended all classes and makeovers for the time being.

Sephora emailed this statement to shoppers on Wednesday.

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Sephora emailed this statement to shoppers on Wednesday.
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Sephora

In a previous statement emailed to Insider, a representative for Sephora said the health and safety of its “clients, employees, and their families” is the company’s “first priority.”

“We are monitoring the global COVID-19 outbreak very closely, following the guidance recommended by our government, health officials, and local leadership,” the representative told Insider. “In North America, we have reminded all of our employees to be vigilant in adhering to our rigorous hygiene protocols and best practices across all of our stores, warehouses and corporate offices and have limited non-essential travel.”

“We have not experienced disruptions to our business operations, but as the situation remains fluid, we will continue to assess needs to maintain service levels in our stores and via our site for all our clients,” they continued.

However, some employees aren’t convinced that shoppers are being protected.

“According to our CEO, Sephora’s protocols in stores are enough to protect clients,” the anonymous corporate employee told Insider. “But I feel like right now, we should not be offering any testers where the client can pick it up themselves and try and put back for another client to pick up and try. We could pull all testers in an abundance of caution, and only cast members with disposable applicators could provide color matching or sample making.”

People who say they work for Shiseido and LVMH have also expressed similar concerns

Estée Laundry is an anonymous Instagram account dedicated to airing the beauty industry’s darkest secrets and harmful practices. Since Tuesday, the account has shared numerous statements from people who claim to work for various beauty brands, all of which state concerns that some cosmetic companies are not protecting employees against the virus.

In one message, for example, someone who claimed to Estée Laundry that they are an LVMH employee at the company’s headquarters in Paris, France, said employees are not allowed to work from home until the virus “worsens.” People who say they’re employees of Shiseido and Sephora also wrote in to the Instagram account with complaints that they were being discouraged against working from home.

Insider has not been able to verify these claims independently, but has reached out to employees at these companies in addition to the companies themselves. Insider has also reached out to Estée Laundry for comment, but has not yet heard back.

Coronavirus is still rapidly spreading throughout the US

Because the coronavirus is now considered a pandemic, local governments and health officials have advised telecommuting when possible, and social-distancing from other people. All of Insider’s coronavirus coverage can be found here.

Representatives for LVMH did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.