'It's an unnecessary risk' - Edinburgh make-up artist 'scared' about return to work at Boots store as beauty counters reopen across UK

A Boots employee says they have been left "scared" at the prospect of returning to "non-essential" work as a beauty advisor in one of the retailer's Edinburgh stores.

The staff member, who does not want to be named, believes their employer is "unnecessarily putting staff at risk" by asking those selling make-up to start working again as part of a phased return which started in most stores across the UK on Monday.

And the employee said it makes them feel "sick to their stomach" that they - and some of their colleagues - will have to use public transport "just to go and sell make-up."

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A Boots spokesperson said the retailer, which has been open since the start of lockdown for essential medicines and beauty products, has learned to adapt its safety measures to ensure staff and customers in beauty halls will be protected with more cleaning of aisles, hand sanitiser stations and upgraded masks and visors for staff.

A Boots beauty advisor from Edinburgh has raised concerns about returning to work, as the health and beauty retailer reopens make-up counters across the UK. Pic: Martin Good/Shutterstock.A Boots beauty advisor from Edinburgh has raised concerns about returning to work, as the health and beauty retailer reopens make-up counters across the UK. Pic: Martin Good/Shutterstock.
A Boots beauty advisor from Edinburgh has raised concerns about returning to work, as the health and beauty retailer reopens make-up counters across the UK. Pic: Martin Good/Shutterstock.

Beauty advisors will also be given training in how to effectively guide customers verbally and to politely request they keep a two metre physical distance, with social distancing signs in place and a one-way system for some stores. Face-to-face consultations will not be available but customers can get skincare and make-up advice from advisors by phone or video call.

But the Boots employee, who has been on furlough and says they will be given 48 hours notice before returning to work, said: "Can you imagine what kind of message this will send out to the public, letting them come into stores and browse the likes of a completely non-essential lipstick?

"I think it’s an absolute disgrace and quite frankly scary. It's unnecessarily putting staff at risk and asking stores to cope with an unnecessary capacity.”

The employee, who believes they may be back at work within days, continued: "Some stores are having to share washroom facilities with the public, bearing in mind that those stores will not have a cleaner on standby to sanitise the room after every person in and out. People can’t even go to see their own families in their own houses, never mind share a washroom.

"I know a lot of the staff in my store use public transport and that within itself is scary in these times, as well as the government advising against using it unless absolutely necessary. It makes me sick to my stomach to think people will be having to use public transport to go and sell makeup at times like these."

What is Boots doing to make it safe?

The Evening News has seen details of the measures - broken down into 'stage one' and 'stage two' - being put in place in Boots beauty halls over the coming weeks in a bid to ensure a safe environment for staff and customers.

Boots says Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provided to staff will include visors, masks and gloves for staff - but the store employee is concerned if customers do not wear face coverings themselves.

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The staff member is also worried that the removal of shrink wrap – which covered products during lockdown – in the beauty halls will mean customers potentially touching or even using products without being noticed, especially if it's busy and other customers need assistance.

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Boots say signs will in place to remind customers not to touch the products unless making a purchase, and pre-packaged individual samples will be provided, where available, by beauty advisors upon request. Testers will be removed from all counters.

During the second stage, testers will not be on display in the beauty aisles and will be dispensed by an advisor with strict hygiene and hand-washing measures in place. Perfumes will be sprayed onto a fragrance blotter, liquid foundations will be pumped into a disposable pot and powders will be swiped with a single-use sponge and then placed into a disposable pot.

Disposable spatulas will be used to slice a sample from the top of lipstick, while eye liners will be applied on fragrance blotter paper before being placed into disposable pots.

Hands-free consultations will be allowed during this stage but with social distancing maintained, giving verbal hints and tips and not using mirrors.

It remains unclear exactly when 'stage two' will begin.

Boots also says that store leaders have spoken to all team members returning to beauty counters to ensure they are safely able to travel to and from work and that, where possible, rotas will be arranged for some people to avoid peak times.

And the retailer says “the majority” of their stores have separate toilet facilities for colleagues only, and that if a member of the public urgently needs access in an emergency then they will be able to go. Stores which previously had shared customer and colleague toilets have been adapted to provide separate facilities.

The Scottish Government guidance for workplaces under the first phase of lockdown easing says they still plan for remote working to remain the "default position" for those who can.

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Construction and manufacturing businesses have previously been referred to as examples of those which can return, providing social distancing and strict hygiene is maintained, along with key workers who have been doing their jobs throughout lockdown.

The Scottish Government also recommends members of the public wear face coverings while in enclosed spaces like shops or on public transport.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said previously that progress will be assessed continuously and that further phases will only be introduced if it is deemed safe to do so.

The Boots employee added: "Boots need to either adhere to government guidance and safely return all staff when the time is right or at least safer or essential.

"Most, if not all employees would be scared to say no to coming into work in the fear they wouldn’t get paid. We’re essentially choosing work or health."

A Boots spokesperson said: "Having been named an essential retailer by the government at the start of the lockdown, we have been doing everything we can to ensure everyone has access to a pharmacy and can get the essentials that they need. All our store colleagues play such an important role in allowing us to offer this vital service to communities across the UK – we couldn’t do it without them and we can’t thank them enough.

"Throughout lockdown we have been prioritising the sale of essential medicines, prescriptions and toiletry items. We chose to close our premium beauty and fragrance counters, but if a customer wished to pick up some additional beauty products from our self-service area whilst in the store they would normally be able to do so.

"Our stores have remained open over the last 8 weeks, and we’ve learnt a lot during this time. We have been able to apply our learnings and adapt our safety measures to ensure that our colleagues are protected and our customers can shop with us safely as we reopen our beauty halls. As the UK begins to exit lockdown, we want to make sure that our customers can continue to shop for the beauty brands they love with confidence. Following a recent trial, we are now in the process of re-opening our beauty halls with a safety-first approach.”

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The retailer also highlighted a recent survey done by No7 which found 80 per cent of women were more likely to feel good about themselves if they wore make-up during lockdown, because beauty products can be a boost for mental health and wellbeing.