Scared Petco employees lacking adequate safety precautions say they are 'paying a dire price' to groom your dog during the coronavirus pandemic

  • Petco employees are questioning their "essential" status and fearing for their safety, particularly in states where grooming centers remain open to the public.
  • Though a Petco spokesperson told Business Insider grooming centers are "operating with reduced hours and limited appointment times" and adding 20-minute barriers between appointments "to allow for proper cleaning and disinfecting," employees told Business Insider it isn't enough. 
  • "Petco and PetSmart are in a dangerous race to see who can make the most money with little thought about the health of their employees," said one Petco employee in California speaking anonymously. "The workers are paying a dire price for this."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Petco employees are beginning to question their "essential" status as the coronavirus wages on, prompting some anxious staffers to speak out against lack of protection and questionable safety protocols at their stores. 

In interviews with Business Insider, Petco workers expressed frustration that the company hasn't shifted exclusively to curbside or online orders, particularly given that products like pet food can be purchased at most grocery stores and big-box retailers.Advertisement

Others said Petco's fight to leave grooming centers open is setting a dangerous precedent. Unlike Petsmart - which temporarily shuttered its grooming centers before reopening them this week in select states - Petco never closed grooming facilities, much to the dismay of employees. 

Though a Petco spokesperson told Business Insider grooming centers are "operating with reduced hours and limited appointment times" and adding 20-minute barriers between appointments "to allow for proper cleaning and disinfecting," employees said it isn't enough. 

"Petco and PetSmart are in a dangerous race to see who can make the most money with little thought about the health of their employees," said one Petco employee in California speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect his job. "The workers are paying a dire price for this."
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Makeshift shields and 'barricade systems'

In some Petco stores, employees have taken drastic measures to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus. In one New York store, associates are using shower curtains to create makeshift barriers from customers, according to a Petco employee in Queens.

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Courtesy of Petco employee

A makeshift barrier at a New York store.

Though Petco said in a statement to Business Insider that is is "following recommended cleaning, sanitation and safety precautions" and "making disposable gloves and masks available to all Petco partners," the California employee said such materials have been hard to come by at this store, causing employees to fend for themselves. Advertisement

"Very, very few stores have masks, so today everyone is scrambling to make them out of T-shirt or order them online, which won't arrive in time or at all," he said.

According to the New York employee, stores were asked this week to start using a " barricade system" in which customers "wait on a circle while an associate runs to the aisles and grabs them specifically what they need so they can just proceed to the registers."

However, within just a few days the barricade was taken down due to its impact on sales. Advertisement

"[Petco] quickly noticed that because associates are not forced to engage with customers and add on to the sale anymore, sales were plummeting," the employee said. "Because of this, senior management is now making the decision to remove the barricade to improve sales." 

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Courtesy of Petco employee

The temporary barricade system in a New York store.

Adding to team stress, the California staffer and commenters on a private Facebook group of Petco employees, which was reviewed by Business Insider, said customers are ignoring social distancing rules by visiting stores in a group and ogling animals and fish. Advertisement

"My aquatic department has so much traffic. None of it is essential," wrote an employee on Facebook. "And people can not control their children. They are everywhere. I'm so stressed I went home in tears. I have a very sick husband at home, and have been willing to stick it out to help my store, help my customers with any problems they are having and care for aquatics. But I'm really rethinking that today. I'm not comfortable taking this risk for people who are bored."

In another instance shared by a staffer, security was called to intervene on a group of shoppers that refused to listen to a manager's request to respect social distancing rules.

"Social distancing is a farce because people are bringing their kids to look at the animals like a zoo and get out of their homes," the California employee said. Advertisement

The grooming dilemma 

Though pet grooming is not listed as "essential" in the Department of Homeland Security's guidance, nor is it considered among universally accepted essential businesses, that hasn't stopped Petco from keeping its grooming centers open.

In California, for example, Petco executives issued a memo to store managers titled "Grooming Is Essential for Pet Health and Wellbeing," in which the company lists various reasons its grooming facilities remain open. "Keeping a pet well-groomed, such as with services provided by professional groomers, is essential. Without proper grooming care, pets can be at risk for negative effects on their health," the memo, which was obtained by Business Insider, reads. "Grooming pets is different from human haircuts - pets can be groomed while adhering to applicable social distancing guidelines."Advertisement

The note comes as grooming centers at Petco stores in Colorado and parts of Ohio were recently given cease-and-desist orders. In its statement to Business Insider, Petco said "we fully support the decision of any Petco employee, including groomers, to stay home if they feel sick or are not comfortable coming to work." 

"All Petco groomers, both where our salons remain open and where our salons have closed, have been given the option to continue serving the essential needs of the community by working in other areas of the store if they wish," the statement said. 

Employees bristle at lack of emergency pay

In an internal document obtained by Business Insider, Petco told employees it would lift the "current practice of assigning attendance infractions due to sick days" and give employees five paid leave days during the coronavirus outbreak. Once the sick days are used, employees are required to use up remaining vacation and paid-time-off days, or else become furloughed. Advertisement

The California employee added that executives are providing "no hazard pay, double overtime, or extra compensation at all." Deepening the blow, he said his team was informed this week that any merit-based raises slated to go into effect this month were canceled indefinitely. 

 

According to a Petco spokesperson, the company established a donation-based fund for struggling employees called the Petco Partner Assist Fund. The program provides "monetary assistance to Petco employees experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 or other qualified disasters in the future," the spokesperson told Business Insider. Advertisement

"Like other essential retailers and service providers, we are working diligently to help protect the health and safety of the pets counting on us, our employees, our guests and the communities we serve by taking recommended steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Petco said in the statement. 

While Petco kickstarted the fund with $2 million, the rest will come from independent donations. Petco is estimated to be worth $4 billion, according to Forbes.

"This is about profit and competing with Petsmart for survival," the California employee said. "Both companies have placed their workers in grave danger with few protections. We aren't Walmart, Costco, Target, Publix, Kroger, or Amazon but we're on the front lines and no one is in our corner. The 23,000 workers in the stores of Petco are devastated because nothing is be done for us and we're suffering as the forgotten essential worker."Advertisement

 

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