A vegan company lost more than 10% of its workforce after it gave employees 24 hours to decide whether to keep working during the coronavirus pandemic or quit

cdavis@insider.com (Charles Davis)
Vegan shirts for sale during Plant Powered Expo 2020 at Olympia London on February 2, 2020 in London, England.

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  • North Carolina-based vegan brand No Evil Foods lost over 10% of its workforce after issuing a stark ultimatum during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • It gave employees 24 hours to decide: stay, and get a bonus for good attendance, or quit and get severance.
  • Three current employees told Business Insider they felt the move ran counter to the company's socially-conscious branding, with immunocompromised employees less likely to remain.
  • Food production has been declared "essential," but how those businesses operate is "uncharted territory," a spokesperson for vegan cheesemaker Miyoko's told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

With products like a faux-chicken "Comrade Cluck," and meatless chorizo named after an autonomist social movement in the Americas, "El Zapatista," the North Carolina-based No Evil Foods has marketed itself as not just another for-profit venture, but a company with a social conscience.

But during the coronavirus pandemic the company — backed by the same venture capitalists who have helped propel brands Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to fame — has, in the eyes of some employees, failed to live up to its branding.

On March 19, the day North Carolina reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus infecting someone via community spread, No Evil Foods gave workers an ultimatum.

The company told employees they had 24 hours to choose from these options.

The first was to keep showing up, with a temporary bump in pay to follow for perfect attendance.

The other was to quit, with no compensation but retaining the ability to apply for a job again sometime in the future — albeit without a guarantee of getting one again. The third was to resign, not to come back, and receive three weeks' severance.

The document was published by the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labor union. Employees who accepted severance agree that, for the next year, they will not "engage in employment in competition with No Evil," nor reveal the terms of their departure to the media, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Business Insider.

'Food as a force for good'

Three current No Evil Foods employees, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they were drawn to their employer for its stated mission: "To use food as a force for good."

They expressed dismay over the reality of economics, in their view, taking priority over their safety.

The employees said they were essentially given a set of options that encourage those with compromised immune systems to leave, and thereby lose their healthcare, while incentivizing the able-bodied to achieve perfect attendance during the height of contagion.

They also expressed concern about a coworker with flu-like symptoms having potentially infected other employees.

That worker, according to the company, "has apparently self-quarantined," but their employer "has no direct knowledge of the employee's symptoms nor diagnoses."

In a statement to Business Insider, Sadrah Schadel, co-founder of No Evil Foods, said that she was struggling to keep the company afloat.

"The people who show up on our lines are true heroes, as they keep the food flowing during this global pandemic," she said. "But if one of our employees does not want to work here anymore, we will immediately provide them three weeks paid leave. We wish we could do even more, but if we did, our family-operated company would end. There would be no jobs to return to for anyone."

In a post on Instagram, No Evil Foods said it has "amped up our already rigorous sanitation practices and capped production rooms to 10 individuals to maintain appropriate social distance whenever possible."

"I don't even really think this is a horrible place," one employee told Business Insider. "I just think it's run by people who are very, very concerned with the bottom line."

Another told Business Insider that No Evil Foods is "talking the talk," when it comes to being a socially conscious employer, "without actually walking the walk."

The worker pointed to the company's practice of encouraging employees to stay home if they feel ill, but at the same time providing a financial bonus to come in every day, and requiring a doctor's note for a single absence. 

"They're incentivizing people to come in, saying if you get perfect attendance for the next 90 days we'll give you a raise for the next 90 days after that," the employee said. "They're saying, 'You can stay home if you don't feel good, if you don't feel safe here,' but they're requiring doctor's notes when it's impossible to get into a doctor right now."

Termed "Positive Attendance Pay," employees who remain with the company through the pandemic are eligible to receive an hourly pay increase of $1.50. To others in the food industry, that's an eyebrow-raising incentive to offer right now.

Doing business during a pandemic

"Yeah, we wouldn't do that," Neil Cohen, Vice President of Marketing at Miyoko's, a vegan butter and cheese manufacturer in Sonoma, California, told Business Insider.

The company, which has about 80 employees working in production at any time, recently announced that anyone with cold or flu symptoms, be they temporary or full-time staff, could take up to 14 days' paid time off, without a doctor's note.

"Health and safety is critical," Cohen said. "But you want to also have continuity of business, as a business, you know, and it's challenging. For everybody right now... it's uncharted territory."

Cohen said no employees at Mikyoko's have chosen to leave since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

At No Evil Foods, seven employees quit on Friday, March 20, the company told Business Insider, choosing to take their three weeks severance. One quit before the severance was offered, but after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In total, it was a loss of about 13% of the workforce.

The company is now seeking to replace them, with new employees eligible for pandemic-related paid time off 30 days after the date of their hiring.

"I'm in complete agreement with my coworkers," another current employee told Business Insider, also noting that despite some attempts at social distancing, there were two other workers within six feet of their workstation.

"This company called 'No Evil Foods' — if you want to make it a moral issue, because that's the name of the company — is doing evil things," the employee said.

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