Fact Check: Goodwill Did NOT Use COVID-19 As An Excuse To Fire All Employees

Fact Check

  • by: Jessica Ravitz
Fact Check: Goodwill Did NOT Use COVID-19 As An Excuse To Fire All Employees Generalization

Did Goodwill fire all of its employees and use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to do it? No, that's not true: While plenty of Goodwill employees across the country may have lost their jobs as stores have closed due to the outbreak, it's a gross generalization to say all employees have been fired -- especially when some locations claim to have laid off no one.

The claim originated in a Facebook post (archived here) published by Sandra Feno on April 2, 2020. It opened:

I just want to share what Goodwill Industries just did to all their employees. They use this pandemic to fire all their employees instead of laying them off. They did say they would hire them all back as a brand new employee with no built up benefits or vacation time.

I will not be donating or shopping there again. They definitely do not care about our community only how much money they can make off of us.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

Some readers of the post shared their anger with Goodwill. "Good luck finding donations now," wrote one person. "Sounds about right..goodwill is an awful place," said another. "This shouldn't shock anyone. That place is crooked as hell and has never helped anyone," posted a third.

Drilling down into the Facebook post's thread, Feno shares that her husband was terminated from his position at the Surprise, Arizona, store after working there for "10 or 11 years." She even included a copy of the "Notice of Reduction in Force Due to Coronavirus" that her husband received. It said, among other things:

Effective 4/01/2020 Goodwill is implementing a reduction in force of certain positions. Regrettably, this notice is to inform you that the last day of your employment is 4/01/2020.

Here's how that notice read as shared on social media:

Feno shared the letter as "proof," responding to naysayers who accused her of lying.

"I work for goodwill an this is NOT TRUE!!" wrote one woman. "It's called furlough. Yes, we are on unpaid leave until further notice. There are too many employees that they would lose everything if they paid us until this is over," added another. "This is false! Please people! Do cursory research on stuff like this! This virus has people freaking out and causing mayhem even online," said a third.

Some people got riled up because of the fear she might be instilling in others. Here's what one woman said:

Honestly your post was shared over 14000 times. Do you know how damaging that is. You are freaking people out causing tons of problems all because you didn't take the 2.2 seconds to look up the information to make sure if you were right or not. Think about your actions toward others. Traditionally I would have not paid any attention to you and chalked this up as a I am reaching out for attention post but this is potentially devastating to people. Spreading wrong information is terrible.

A call to the Goodwill store located in Surprise, Arizona, directed Lead Stories to this general voicemail message from Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona. It simply said, "Due to Gov. Ducey's executive stay-at-home order, we have temporarily closed our stores to shoppers," before encouraging callers to shop online and keep visiting the website for news on when the stores will reopen.

Lead Stories reached out directly to Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, seeking further clarification from an official. A statement was forwarded to us explaining how Goodwill there, based on the governor's order, "had to make the very difficult decision to close our stores in order to protect the health and safety of our employees and shoppers."

In dealing with the financial fallout, the region then had to make "the very difficult decision to part ways with the majority of employees at each store."

But in addition to a severance package, the statement said, Goodwill's mission services team is reaching out to each employee to help them find employment while also hoping this separation is only temporary. The statement ended with this:

We truly hope when this situation passes, we will be able to rehire the majority of these employees.

That seems to fly in the face of Feno's claim that the organization doesn't care about its workers or community.

We also reached out to Goodwill Industries International, headquarters for the organization, to see if it could explain the structure of Goodwill and how what happens in one location doesn't translate to all locations.

Here's what Lauren Lawson-Zilai, a spokeswoman for Goodwill headquarters, had to say in an email to Lead Stories:

Goodwill has 157 nonprofit community organizations across the U.S. and Canada. Each Goodwill is operated by a local board of directors who appoints a president and CEO. Each organization is structured that way as they know the needs of their local communities. Local Goodwills operate the stores, donation centers and workforce training centers in their communities. Collectively, more than 87 percent of our revenue goes back to mission providing job placement and training, and support services such as child care, financial education, transportation and mentoring for community members.

Lawson-Zilai went on to explain how COVID-19 has prompted the closure of some locations "due to government or state regulations." That means stores "have made an intentional shift to move their mission delivery online, including providing job preparation skills, job search techniques, job leads and placements, and job readiness skills, including resume writing, interview skills building, dressing techniques and more."

Goodwills have also moved to focusing on community partnerships, she said. Some locations are providing trucks to deliver food to food banks or donations to the homeless, for example, Others are opening their sites to collect First Aid supplies for medical personnel (including masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, etc.) or to offer "online learning through Google classrooms and basic computer skills."

Even if the majority of employees were let go from Goodwill stores in the Arizona region, that experience simply does not speak for Goodwill employees across the nation.

Nonprofit Quarterly published a piece titled, "Unprecedented Layoffs among Nonprofits Threaten Deep Community Damage," on March 30, 2020, in which the magazine said:

Goodwill Industries is furloughing workers all around the country, as their businesses are either closed or seeing their sales plummet. At Goodwill Manasota, that amounts to 374 employees, or 52 percent of its workforce.

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky released a statement on April 1, 2020, which began:

Today, Goodwill Industries of Kentucky announced that it will furlough approximately 1,000 of its retail employees. The furloughs are a direct result of revenue losses related to the temporary closing of its 66 stores due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Goodwill will continue to provide furloughed employees the benefits they currently receive for as long as possible and expects to bring them back as stores reopen.

Additionally, "remaining staff will take a reduction in salary," the statement said, including the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Kentucky Amy Luttrell.

Other regional offices of Goodwill have taken measures to protect their employees. Goodwill of South Florida, for example, launched an emergency fundraiser to support those they had to lay off. The fundraising page, "COVID-19: THEY NEED US AND WE NEED YOU," includes this:

We are in dire straits. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we have been forced to lay off 2,200 of our workers. Many of these employees are part of the most marginalized work force, working under a triple threat of disabilities, limited work skills and living paycheck to paycheck. These characteristics make it difficult for them to find a job elsewhere.

We are in desperate need of help and we need it now. ...

While also seeking Federal and State relief specifically for the Coronavirus, Goodwill is asking our community to step up on a local level and donate to our Goodwill Employee Emergency fund. For every $5,000 we raise, we can provide one week's pay for 15 of our most financial neediest program participants.

Other regions say no one has been cut. "This is not true for us," said Tenee Hawkins, a spokesperson for Goodwill of North Georgia, after seeing the Facebook post from Sandra Feno. "Goodwill of North Georgia has not laid off any employees."

None of this is to say that Feno's husband and her family are not suffering in the aftermath of his lost job. But to say that "all employees" have been fired by Goodwill is misleading at best.

Lead Stories is working hard to debunk fake stories circulating online about COVID-19. Here are a few recent examples:

Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Jessica Ravitz

Jessica Ravitz, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is a former senior writer at CNN Digital. For more than a decade, she wrote longform narratives and profiles on topics ranging from gun violence, sexual assault and suicide to women’s health, spirituality and race.

 

Read more about or contact Jessica Ravitz

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