Lowe's Employees Say the Store Is Staying Open During Coronavirus to Maximize Profit

While competitors Target and Home Depot have reduced store hours to help combat the coronavirus, Lowe’s continues to expose staff and customers.
March 20, 2020, 5:43pm
Lowe's store
Image: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Update: After the publication of this piece, Lowe's sent an announcement to employees saying it would slightly limit opening hours, Lowe's sources told Motherboard. The company also tweeted details of the changes. The original story follows below.

Hardware chain Lowe's, which has over 2,000 stores and 300,000 employees, is operating with normal opening hours, and trying to capitalize on a crisis as competitors such as Target and Home Depot take more steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple Lowe's employees. This is despite at least one confirmed case of Lowe's staff contracting the coronavirus.

The news shows how some companies continue to place both employees and customers in situations that could increase the number of coronavirus infections, and comes as states around the country order or prepare to order all non-essential businesses to close.

"I'm pretty sure they are knowledgeably putting lives at risk for profit," a Lowe's source said.

Motherboard spoke to five Lowe's employees, and granted them anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press.

While competitors like Home Depot and Target have limited their opening hours in response to the coronavirus epidemic in order to give employees more time to disinfect the store, Lowe's employees told Motherboard that the company is operating normally, and even sees the safety precautions competitors are taking as an opportunity to do more business.

"Our store manager told us it was 'our time to shine' since they [Home Depot] were closed at 6pm," one Lowe's employee told Motherboard. "Now the stores are extremely busy since [Home Depot] closes at 6pm and us at 10pm. Our customer count has doubled since we are getting all of their customers as well," they added.

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"Typically, Lowe’s copycats whatever Home Depot does. When Home Depot announced the store closures and PTO [paid-time-off], everyone at Lowe’s assumed we’d follow suit. The fact that we didn’t is very telling to many people who work in the store day to day," another employee said.

"I feel as if Lowe’s is keeping regular hours in order to attract customers who may normally shop at Home Depot," another employee said.

Lowe's sells home improvement products, appliances, tools, hardware, and gardening equipment. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has posted several different messages to Twitter and in emails, encouraging customers to carry out fun projects in quarantine, if they have the right supplies. One was a Lowe's YouTube video of how to make wooden robots for children.

Meanwhile, Lowe's is still allowing any number of customers into its stores, not providing staff with enough hygiene supplies, and not adequately cleaning stores, according to multiple employees.

"We allow old people and parents with kids to roam around the store, and touch everything," one employee said.

"We've been cleaning (which is just wiping down counters while customers are still present in the store) at most twice a day, and none of the cashiers have hand sanitizer or wipes since we sold all of them for profit instead," added another.

"I'm pretty sure they are knowledgeably putting lives at risk for profit."

On Thursday, Lowe's confirmed to local media outlet WMCActionNews5 that a Lowe's employee at one of the company's Memphis, Tennessee stores tested positive for the coronavirus. Lowe's said the employee is under quarantine, and that the company placed other employees who worked closely with the staffer on paid leave.

Motherboard obtained an internal Lowe's document explaining its current paid-time-off and sick pay situation. It says if an employee tests positive for coronavirus, they are to not come to work, and that they will be paid until they are released to return to work by their physician. Another says those who have been in close contact with an individual with a confirmed case can also be paid for up to two weeks since the exposure while away from work, but according to employees Motherboard spoke to Lowe's policies may not be working in practice.

"We do have the ability to request two weeks off if we are exposed to someone with coronavirus, but a couple of employees have gone that route and their requests were denied," one employee said. They added that a coworker with a quarantined family member had their emergency paid-time-off request denied.

Lowe's did not respond to a request for comment or to a set of specific questions.

"They seem to see this as an opportunity to increase profits, at the expense of public health," one of the employees said.