In these trying days, every company in existence has been frantically emailing their customers, offering platitudes, deep discount offers, and, occasionally, real information about how they’re trying to make this time easier on their workers. The clothing brand Everlane is no different: It has sent out a raft of uplifting emails, reminding customers that, as they write, “We’re all in this together.” This evidently does not apply to the company’s temporary remote customer-service employees, all of whom were laid off this week with three days’ notice, and now face the prospect of trying to find work during a global pandemic.
Everlane, which prides itself on radical transparency and ethical supply chains, announced on March 14 that it would be temporarily closing its retail stores for two weeks, while still paying its retail employees. “As we continue our daily lives in this changing reality, let’s work to protect and care for one another,” the company wrote in an email blast. “Even from afar, we’re in this together.” Three days later, a total of eight people on Everlane’s remote customer service team (referred to as “customer experience” in Everlane parlance, or CX) unceremoniously lost their jobs.
Those eight people were employed through Atrium, an employment agency that Everlane often uses to hire extra staff around the holidays. All of the temp workers who remained through this month had been asked to extend their time at Everlane after the holiday season. Three of them told VICE they’d been given reason to believe they should expect to be employed at least through March 31, and showed us glowing performance reviews they’d gotten over the last few months.
“I worked incredibly hard and went above and beyond. They kept me on and insinuated that I would be brought on officially,” one told us. (VICE spoke to four of the eight fired workers,all of whom asked for anonymity to protect their privacy while they search for new jobs.)
On Tuesday, the fired staffers say, they got a phone call from a manager at Atrium, followed by a brief email the next day, attributing their firing to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were told their last day would be Friday, March 20, three days later.
“It's scary,” one of the fired temp workers told VICE. “Knowing that I had a good job that I could work from home during this time when we're all supposed to be self-quarantining, and thinking it would last for at least another week or two, probably longer … to then be let go with less than four days notice. It's really scary.”
Everlane’s public-facing efforts have all been oriented towards communicating concern for their employees, their customers, and the global human family. They recently announced that the proceeds from one collection will go towards Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund, and pledged to be there for their customers and employees alike. In one heartfelt Twitter thread, the brand wrote, “More than ever, we need to find ways to connect.”
The fired workers have watched those missives bitterly this week. “I am sure I am speaking from a place of anger and fear, but none of this feels like how a company should act while it says it prides itself on transparency and ethical treatment of people,” one said.
These eight people comprised a sizable fraction of the CX team. One person VICE spoke to estimates just there are just 57 year-round employees on the CX team at the moment, handling virtually every online interaction with customers—returns, sizing questions, troubleshooting over a lost package—as well as issues with tariffs and fraud investigations. Those employees are, for the most part, part-time and don’t earn benefits, and virtually all of them have second and third jobs, according to interviews conducted by VICE with many of them. In December, the remote CX employees announced their plans to unionize with the Communications Workers of America, saying their low pay and frenetic work schedules had become increasingly hard to bear.
The union drive remains ongoing. “We have never needed a contract more than we do right now,” an East Coast employee who’s previously spoke to VICE about the union drive said. That person said that customer-experience employees are dealing with an increased workload, both because Everlane’s retail stores are closed and because the chaos unleashed by the coronavirus is leading to a host of complicated retail issues. Some people need to make a return but are in quarantine, for instance; others no longer have access to the address where a package was shipped.
That the temp workers have been let go, the East Coast employee told us, “increases our workload.” They haven’t been told about it officially, the person said, though news has obviously trickled out. “There’s been no announcement that the Atrium workers’ time is coming to an end. That makes us a little nervous. It’s really hard to feel a sense of job security now when you see these new changes coming down the pipeline and you see temporary folks being let go and the only internal communications you’re receiving are platitudes.”
To complicate matters, the East Coast employee said, CX employees have also recently been handed a new performance evaluation system, one that rates their job performance on the number of “tickets”—customer interactions of any kind—they can resolve in a day. The CX employees worry that they’ll be dinged for decreased “productivity” even though many tickets are taking longer to resolve, given the complicated issues the pandemic has introduced and the fact that they’ve suddenly lost some of their coworkers.
At the same time, the East Coast employee said, Everlane did make a gesture towards supporting the CX employees, sending out an email acknowledging that many people might have lost their second jobs. For now, they’re temporarily being allowed to work up to 29 hours a week, the cap put on part-time employees. (Correction: A previous version of this article stated that employees would be allowed to exceed 29 hours. That's incorrect; they'll be allowed to work up to 29 hours.)
“That’s amazing,” the East Coast employee said. “It’s so empathetic and appreciated they’re allowing people to do that, especially for those of us supporting families, that’s really impactful.”
At the same time, they added, the CX team’s sick leave is accrued in hours, not days. Someone who had a cold in January may have already used up five hours of sick time, and it’s unlikely many of them have enough to take more time off if they start getting sick.
“If you’re a relatively healthy person developing a fever and chills and body ache and looking at your seven hours of sick time, telling yourself maybe you just have a bad flu, are you going to feel comfortable asking for time off?” the East Coast employee said. (Everlane sent out an email saying that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be given paid sick leave, the employee added, though, as most people well know, there's been a nationwide issue with getting tested at all.)
“People are sick,” the East Coast employee added. “People are afraid. Some of us don’t have healthcare. We have like seven hours of accrued sick pay. We can’t afford to be seriously ill. We don’t have the safety net the rest of the company does because we’re part-time employees.”
One might argue that this bloodless and unceremonious firing of vulnerable and financially unstable workers in a time of global crisis is antithetical to Everlane’s stated values. “I think people, especially their customers, need to be aware of how disposable Everlane’s non-managerial employees truly are,” one fired temp worker told us.
In a statement to VICE, Everlane said:
Atrium is a temporary staffing resource that we have contracted from time to time for additional customer service support. We cannot comment on the communication made to each of these individuals. While the decision to part ways with Atrium was a conversation we had weeks ago, we did make the final decision this past Monday.