The global health food chain, which has 750 UK stores, has been allowed by the UK government to keep its doors open as an essential retailer because it sells products that cater for people with special dietary needs.
But staff have set up a petition, signed by nearly 5,000 people at the time of article publication, pleading with management to close stores. The staff who created the petition argue that the store is not essential and working in the stores helps spread the virus and puts the staff's lives at risk.
The petition states: "Being on the front lines, dealing with customers day in and day out, increases the chances of the virus spreading rapidly. The company has not been providing us hand washes, anti-bacterial gels and other form of protection to reduce the chance of catching the virus.
"The stores need to be closed, so we not only keep ourselves safe but also the nation. All we want, is to be safe and be with our loved ones during this period of crisis."
The petition goes on to point out that many of the staff travel to work using public transport and then deal with a variety of customers every day including vulnerable customers.
"It is our job as a society to protect those who are vulnerable and close the stores so we have a better chance in preventing coronavirus from spreading. Please close the stores, to prevent many more lives at risk and many more deaths."
Many staff and customers have taken to social media to criticise the firm further, with several insisting that the small size of many of the retail outlets rules out effective implementation of social distancing.
But a spokesperson for the company said the safety of its teams and customers is of 'paramount importance' and the firm has been advised it can remain open as many customers rely on the food and supplements they sell to manage their dietary or underlying conditions.
They added: "For example: pregnant women in need of folic acid supplementation; Coeliacs; those with milk and egg allergies; those outlined by the government as ‘at-risk’ groups in need of vitamin D supplementation; and those caring for customers with compromised immune systems, in need of additional support at this time.
"We are working around the clock to ensure our teams are as safe as possible whilst staying open to meet the needs of our customers. We have provided gloves, masks and hand sanitiser to all of our store colleagues and have also installed shielding screens at the counter, and are following all other safety advice.
"We have asked all colleagues who have any concerns about these safety measures or who need more gloves, masks or sanitiser provided to contact to either contact their manager or our dedicated colleague helpline.
"In addition to this, social distancing is also being enforced with clear guidance in store. We have limited the maximum number of customers allowed in the stores at any one time, dependant on store size, and tape has been installed marking out a two metre distance from the tills with clear signage throughout stores.
"The contactless payment limit has also been increased to £45 in the UK (50 Euros in ROI) from the 1stApril and we are encouraging all customers to scan and bag their own items where possible, with guidance from store staff. We have also closed stores temporarily where we can serve local communities from fewer locations.
"Any colleague self-isolating under government guidelines because of symptoms, or symptoms in someone they live with, will receive full pay for the recommended self-isolation period. We have also written to those colleagues who have identified themselves as ‘most at risk’ to offer options for working from home. If this is not possible they will receive full pay for up to the 12 week isolation period.
"For any colleagues showing no symptoms, and who haven’t identified themselves as falling into the ‘most at risk’ category, but who doesn’t feel comfortable coming into work despite these safety measures, we will continue to employ these colleagues, and offer the options of statutory sick pay, TOIL, or holiday pay.
"We are bolstering our online capacity as quickly as possible so customers can order from home where possible, and have set also up a new customer phone line for those customers who cannot access our website for home delivery.
"We strongly encourage our colleagues to use our dedicated helpline if they have any questions.”