Workers Reveal What It's Really Like To Work At Costco During The Pandemic

Costco shoppers know what it's like: the long lines, the families pushing massive carts of the goodies they went shopping for in the first place... and quite a few that they didn't even know that they needed. It seems like Costco is always busy, no matter what time of day it is. So... what's it like during a global health crisis?

There are still plenty of things Costco has that people need. People need cleaning supplies, food, and yes, toilet paper. They need to visit the pharmacy. It's understandable that Costco is considered an essential service, but what's it really been like there, for the people that come in every day to spend hours restocking, cashing people out, and telling them they're out of certain things?

What's it really like for the Costco employees? Are the safety measures put in place enough to make them feel comfortable? Or have they been vocal about the fact that they're doing an unforgiving job? Let's hear it straight from the employees. This is what it's really like to work at Costco during the pandemic.

Costco employees are working much harder than normal

Keeping Costco's shelves stocked during normal days and weeks is a tough enough job, but according to employees, it's been even harder since the pandemic hit. Business Insider spoke with one employee in Texas, who had this to say:

"Our staff top to bottom are working our tails off right now. Yes, there are long lines, yes we are out of items you want," they explained. "We understand your frustrations but we as individuals are just a small piece in a very big puzzle and we are trying to deliver the best service we can."

Employees on Reddit have said their work days have gotten even more complicated for another reason: the amount of staff who are calling in sick. One Redditor said: "basically half the staff called out today and the ones who did show up busted our asses. I feel so emotionally and physically abused."

How Costco employees feel about enforcing two people per membership

In early April 2020, Costco announced (via ABC News) that they would limit the number of people allowed entry to the store to two people per membership card. The idea was that it would make it easier to observe social distancing, but employees say it's been a huge headache. When one took to Reddit to explain that "We're just trying to keep people safe, even if you might think it's a joke."

The employee went on to say that customers have been less than accepting of the new rule.

"I've been called every name in the book, middle finger shoved right in my face, carts pushed into me, and a membership card thrown in my face, and that's all in the past 3 days we've been enforcing that rule. Not joking I should be wearing a body cam."

Some Costco employees are told not to enforce the rule

A few weeks after the announcement came that Costco would limit the number of people in their stores, employees were taking to Reddit to find out if stores other than their own were struggling with the rule — or, outright ignoring it.

One Redditor said: "Hundreds upon hundreds of people walked in without waiting at opening. All semblance of social distancing evaporated as we began to deal with the huge rush on Friday. I might add we are in the heart of the pandemic. Employees clocked out and left in the middle of their shifts. Saying they felt unsafe. I'm still here but the whole store is talking about how unsafe they feel right now."

Others added that their stores had stopped limiting people, and according to one Redditor, "The manager at the door said that the regional managers had made the call. It's bulls***." 

It wasn't long before the increased traffic started wearing on some employees. One took to Reddit to say, "Just getting out of work now and I just want to cry with how much anxiety all of this has given me, and my co-workers agree! Can't wait for this all to end." 

Another added, "6000+ people come in daily and are constantly allowed to flow in without concern for how many are in the building at a given point. I don't feel safe..."

Some Costco workers say customers are putting them at risk

Reddit is filled with stories of employees who struggle every day with seeing customers whose behavior puts them at risk.

One Redditor talked about customers looking at clothing and leaving a mess behind, something that's not just inconvenient, but dangerous. "They're spreading their germs on all the clothing that we have to refold, virus stays on clothes for 12 hours, why can't we just block off clothing and let people shop for just essentials!" they said.

Others spoke of seeing parents let their kids run through the store: "'as kids do,' as if his kid can't spread corona to a whole line of people," and told stories of seeing people blocking entire aisles just to socialize. 

One shared: "...I noticed a crowd of young guys hanging out... No one was shopping. Just empty carts and all of them on their phones socializing. They must've been hanging out in the TV aisle for about an hour before they left." 

Costco employees who fill online orders are getting slammed, too

It's not just Costco's warehouse employees that are having to work twice as hard because of the pandemic — those that fill their online orders are struggling, too.

One Redditor took to the boards to ask people to please, please, please stop complaining about how badly the website and their shipping times currently were. They wrote: "Depot workers are overloaded with thousands of online orders. They also have to wait for shipments of items to get in. It isn't their fault that things are slow and unfortunately, it's the luck of the draw when it comes to essential items."

While there were lots of comments, it was the response of one Costco employee that summed it up the best: "As an order picker who got off his 0400-1430 shift after making relief for the afternoon shift, thank you. When grinding out six-day work weeks, the odd 12 or even voluntary 16 hour day, it hurts to come on here and see people bitch about how long it's taking. Thank you from the bottom of my tired, atrophied heart."

It was a scary few weeks for Costco's sample servers

For many, the sample servers are the best part about going to Costco. You never know what you're going to get to try, after all, but when the pandemic hit, the job of the server suddenly got a lot more complicated.

Sample servers are actually employed by a company called Club Demonstration Services (CDS). At the end of March, Costco stopped giving out those free samples because of hygiene and safety concerns, but they did make the move to keep all those people employed. Instead of handing out free food, Costco decided to keep them to help with the increased need for cleaning and sanitation... but not everyone was happy about that.

One employee spoke to Business Insider and said that it was worrying, because most of the sample servers-turned cleaning staff were senior citizens — an age group at high risk for infection. Another employee in another part of the country echoed that, saying, "I feel really bad for them because they are an older population which is now an at-risk population." 

But even that was short-lived. At the beginning of April, Business Insider reported that the employees had all been laid off, and were told that they could reapply for their old positions at some point in the future.

Costco employees get blamed for the limits

In an attempt to stop panic-buying and shortages, many places have put limits on how much a person can buy. That's true of Costco, too, who not only put limits on certain items, but stopped accepting returns on items — like toilet paper — that people seem to be prone to buying way too much of.

Business Insider spoke to a few Costco employees on just how well that's working out, and they've said it's been difficult to explain to customers why the limits are in place. One said: "The limits on certain items is to provide the best service possible to as many members as we can. We understand you might be also buying bath tissue for your elderly mother, but if we make one exception, we have [to] make one for everyone."

That was echoed by another employee in another state, who said it was difficult convincing customers that "everyone deserves a chance to come to the store at anytime and be able to purchase what they need."

They also stress that the limits apply to employees, too — they're not able to buy any more than customers.

There have been reports of customers assaulting Costco workers

It's obvious that everyone is stressed these days, but some customers may be taking those frustrations out on store workers. Some Costco employees have also been on the receiving end of physical and verbal abuse, leading one Redditor to suggest, "Costco really needs to start firing some bad customers." Others went on to suggest that if things continued, it would be necessary for law enforcement to be on hand to protect employees.

One employee shared: "Had a lady intentionally cough in my face because we didn't allow her and her partner and young child in because of the two-person limit." That, others noted, was nothing short of assault. 

Another employee wrote, "I got yelled at by some old jerk and told to go f*** myself..." while yet another Costco employee shared an episode of racial harassment they suffered while trying to keep the shelves stocked.

Costco employees have to clean up your gear

Working on the front lines at Costco during the pandemic means that some employees have seen their job responsibilities expand in a pretty gross way. More and more people are wearing protective gear in an attempt to keep safe, and while that's a good thing, some employees have taken to Reddit to complain that the customers who are wearing those gloves and masks should also be disposing of them properly, not leaving them for employees to handle. 

One employee wrote an appeal to Costco shoppers everywhere: "Please take trash out of carts. It's disgusting when I have to pick up your used gloves and masks. I understand you are trying to stay healthy with these preventative measures but you are not helping me when you do not dispose of them correctly." And to that, another responded, "Louder for the people in the back!!!"

Costco employees say they've seen customers who are clearly sick

Costco has a lot of members. According to Statista, as of 2019 there were 98.5 million people who had bought and paid for an annual membership, so it's safe to say that each store has a ton of people go in and out of their warehouses, and according to some employees, they've seen customers that are clearly sick.

One employee took to Reddit with this account: "We had an older person at our store basically collapse on the floor today. Saying they have been sick for over a week and lied about having troubles breathing. Like wtf are we supposed to do? We didn't sign up to be emergency responders."

They also added that there were no guidelines in place for what employees should do if customers came into the store while they were clearly sick or even — as in this instance — they were clearly in need of medical attention.

Another employee added that they had seen customers cough while asking employee's questions. Of course, not every cough is something serious, but it does tend to make people cringe these days.

Experiences aren't the same for every Costco employee

Costco employees have also taken to Reddit to compare notes on what's going on in their stores as compared to other locations across the country and outside of the U.S. When one employee posted, "I just want to ask, does anyone think the way Costco responds ...[to the pandemic] is very spotty and very different from location to location?" others were quick to respond.

One Redditor spoke to the conditions at the two Costcos in Nova Scotia's capital, saying that one was allowing only 50 people in at a time, and observing social distancing while the other... not so much. 

And when one employee took to Reddit to ask if anyone else's stores had been instructed to have no lines outside, responses were all over the place. Some were still observing the rule, others weren't, and employees were unsure of why there was such a widespread difference in the practices observed at different Costco locations. 

Costco employees aren't thrilled about the PPE situation

According to some employees, Costco isn't doing nearly enough to protect their workers. Take it from one employee who took to Reddit to issue a public plea to their employer: "Please provide mask and gloves to all employees working in the warehouses who want to wear them. ... We need guidelines, support. ... Can we manufacture our own? Kirkland brand to help everyone in need of protective gear? ... This is a critical time to be a leader."

When Buzzfeed News did an investigation into the conditions Costco workers were facing, they had one employee sum it up like this: "On a daily basis, you have people cough in your face or ... spit. Never did I think that working at Costco would be the same thing as a first responder. We're f***ing ground zero."

They spoke to around 30 Costco employees who echoed many of the same concerns. At some stores, employees had to share gloves, because there wasn't enough to go around. One employee said they were bringing their own gloves from home, and when they could, they'd share with their coworkers. There were nowhere near enough masks or pieces of sanitation equipment, either, and to add insult to injury, their shopping time was restricted to after-hours, end-of-day... when many of the essentials — like toilet paper and baby formula — were long gone.

Costco employees say they weren't told when coworkers tested positive

When Buzzfeed News did an investigation into the conditions at Costco post-coronavirus outbreak, they found things were dire. It started with Regina Lee, the first Costco employee to die of the virus. She worked her whole Saturday shift at her desk in Costco's travel department at Costco headquarters, and Monday, she was dead of the virus that would soon take her mother and sister, too.

They found that by mid-April, dozens of employees had tested positive, and others died. And when they spoke to workers on the front lines, those employees said that they hadn't been informed there were confirmed cases among their close colleagues, and that Costco's response was lacking: they were slow to close and properly clean stores. 

Worse, one manager in Michigan said that some of their elderly employees were sent to clean a portion of the store where an infected employee had been stationed, and they weren't told exactly what they were cleaning. Other employees say that even if they let their bosses know that they had possibly been exposed to COVID-19, they were told to come to work... or take unpaid leave.

A shift supervisor who worked in an Oregon Costco had this to say: "We are all expendable. Who talks about protecting us? I am not hearing anyone stand up for us."

Customers do thank Costco employees... and they're grateful for that

At the beginning of the pandemic, one Costco employee posted photos on Imgur showing empty shelves, cases, and cabinets. Bored Panda reached out to the employee, who said that while it was busy and stressful, the management in their store was going above and beyond to make sure employees knew they were appreciated.

For this employee, it was about more than just the physical exhaustion: "Today was the first day I felt mentally EXHAUSTED with having to disappoint so many people. ... People are starting to get more irritated at the lack of certain items."

But it wasn't all doom and gloom, they said that some customers went out of their way to make employees feel appreciated, and it's a powerful reminder of how far a simple thanks will go.

They said: "Please keep being friendly with us. We are doing our best. I have had so many people ... commend us for being there and doing what we do. It's thanks to politeness like this that makes the job bearable at a time like this."