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AT&T memo explains stores staying open during pandemic (Update: AT&T statement)

Update: AT&T gave a statement to Android Authority about the leaked memo.

Published onMarch 20, 2020

ATT logo stock image 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Update, March 20, 2020 (04:45 PM ET): An AT&T spokesperson reached out to Android Authority about the leaked memo pertaining to AT&T stores described below.

The first part of the statement relates to the background of the memo. The memo was exclusively sent to third-party independent retailers in the state of California, where late last night a declaration was made that all residents should stay home unless needed for essential activities.

With this California mandate in mind, the AT&T memo says that AT&T stores “may remain open within parameters of the requirements because it provides essential services that are critical to the public’s ability to communicate during the current emergency.” As such, the memo — and the instructions transcribed below about how to deal with law enforcement agents — is meant to act as an explainer about why mandates like the one in California do not negate the ability for AT&T stores to remain open.

The AT&T spokesperson clarifies further that “the US Department of Homeland Security released guidance that as a critical communications provider our work is essential.” However, when pressed for proof of this as well as how that exemption applies to third-party retailers, the spokesperson had no comment.

As more states will likely adopt total lockdowns as California has, we will need to wait and see how long AT&T stores and other similar retail locations remain open.

Original article, March 20, 2020 (11:30 AM ET): An anonymous tipster sent Android Authority a leaked internal memo sent by AT&T officials to various AT&T stores. The memo declares that some stores will remain open during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, despite local government ordinances declaring they should be closed.

The memo gives detailed instructions on what employees should do if local law enforcement arrives inquiring about why the store is defying any ordinances. They are asked to hand the law enforcement officials a letter explaining that AT&T stores are “providing essential services” and therefore do not violate any shelter in place orders.

Related: Coronavirus response: US carriers close down many retail stores

Since the retail employees themselves would also be defying any shelter in place ordinances, the memo also suggests retail staff should “consult your attorney for legal advice regarding your obligations.”

Here is a transcript of the memo provided to Android Authority:

AT&T Stores: Shelter In Place / Essential Business Only

In conjunction with the passage of a number of Shelter In Place/Essential Business Only ordinances, AT&T has provided the attached guidance and letter to AT&T stores to be used in the event any officials, individuals, or groups inquire about why the AT&T store is open.

Please be advised that this is being provided as an “AT&T Best Practice” only. This is not intended to be, nor should you rely on it as an explanation of the ordinance or your responsibilities with respect to the ordinance. Furthermore, this is not intended to be nor should it be construed as legal advice. You should consult your attorney for legal advice regarding your obligations in connection with the ordinance.

What do I do if my store is visited by local government officials or police, and they are asking why we’re open during the Shelter In Place order?

Explain that AT&T is an essential business providing essential services and show them the printed copy of the attached letter. If they have further questions, please engage your management team.

Yesterday, video game retailer GameStop made headlines for distributing a similar memo to its retail employees. While a better argument could be made that AT&T stores are “essential” as compared to GameStop stores, the AT&T memo itself is pretty shady. After all, how many retail employees have an attorney at all, let alone one they can easily call up for legal advice about these shelter in place ordinances and how their employer is demanding they defy them?

The anonymous tipster speaking with Android Authority claimed that 40% of AT&T stores are closed, but the staff members of those stores have simply been moved to other nearby locations. This means that there are more employees — and more customers — visiting fewer locations, which is the exact opposite of what shelter in place ordinances are attempting to do.

AT&T rival T-Mobile has reportedly closed 80% of its corporate retail stores in response to the pandemic. Verizon also said it would close some stores, but hasn’t given any exact details.

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