- The CEO of Young Living, the Utah-based essential oils company, told hundreds of employees that she believes the COVID-19 pandemic will disappear after the presidential election in November, and blamed the outbreak on unspecified political meddling.
- The executive, Mary Young, encouraged employees to return to work on September 1 and said they wouldn’t be required to wear masks.
- Young’s comments came nearly two months after the company disclosed that a Young Living employee had died from complications related to COVID-19.
- Business Insider previously published a three-part investigation into Young Living’s corporate practices.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The CEO of Young Living dismissed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic during a recent virtual hall attended by hundreds of staffers, according to two current employees at the Utah-based multilevel-marketing essential oils company. Both said that, during the August 31 meeting, chief executive Mary Young attributed the outbreak to political meddling and said she believes it will vanish after the presidential election in November.
Young’s remarks came nearly two months after one of her employees died of complications related to COVID-19. The company disclosed the employee’s death, with few details, at a different town hall in early July.
Young Living is a wellness powerhouse that claims over $1.5 billion in annual sales by touting the natural benefits of plant essences. The enterprise has more than 3,000 employees, at least 6 million members, and has drawn endorsements from the likes of Ellen Pompeo, Jenna Dewan, and Kristin Cavallari. Last month, Business Insider published a three-part investigation into the company’s inner workings.
A Young Living employee died of COVID-19 in early July
The state of Utah has recorded at least 55,053 infections, and 424 deaths, from COVID-19. One of those deaths was a Young Living employee who had worked there for more than six years, mostly at the distillery on the company’s farm, according to a video obtained by Business Insider of an internal town hall meeting held shortly after the employee’s death on July 6. While the video did not explicitly mention the farm’s location, the company operates a lavender farm and distillery in Mona, around 50 miles south of their Lehi headquarters.
It’s unclear whether the employee became infected with COVID-19 while working at the Young Living farm. The company did not respond to specific questions about the circumstances of the employee’s death, citing privacy concerns.
After the employee died, a Young Living spokesperson said, the company “notified employees with possible exposure and followed state and local guidelines for testing and quarantine practices. Young Living continues to follow all necessary guidelines at all our facilities.”
In Juab County, where Mona is located, COVID-19 guidelines include social distancing in public settings and wearing masks when social distancing is impractical. Utah County, where Lehi is located, follows identical COVID-19 guidelines, which also urge business owners to “encourage flexible work arrangements, follow hygiene guidelines, and continue social distancing in the workplace.” In nearby Salt Lake City, municipal leaders have counseled residents to work remotely when possible and limit in-person interactions to individual households.
Aubrey Bates, the Vice President of People at Young Living, disclosed the Young Living employee’s death on July 10. “My ask to you is, as we see COVID cases still rising in the state, that we are mindful and that we protect our families and we protect ourselves through proper safety precautions and that we stay the course,” Bates told staffers during the virtual meeting. “We are committed to your safety and we will continue to monitor updates provided by the local government and abide by their recommendations.”
Mary Young encouraged employees to physically show up for work and said she wouldn’t wear a mask
The two current employees questioned Bates’ characterization of the company’s efforts. They pointed out that Young Living previously committed to follow public health recommendations, and had published a May press release that said employees would work remotely through the end of 2020. During the August meeting, however, Young encouraged—but did not require—employees to resume in-person work on September 1, according to one of the employees.
Both employees said Young announced during the town hall that she will not wear a mask to the office and won’t require them of employees. She added that she plans to welcome those returning with a hug.
In an internal chat during the meeting, while Young spoke, some employees wrote that they would resume returning to the office at least a couple days a week, one employee told Business Insider. This person added that workers from the company’s warehouse questioned whether, due to Young’s remarks, they would no longer need to wear masks while they worked.
“I don’t think I’ll be safe and protected, and if they brought us in I think I’d be trying to find another job immediately,” an employee said.
At one point, Young attributed the pandemic to political machinations. “She did make it clear that she believes it was linked to politics,” one employee said, referring to COVID-19. According to the other employee, Young told the town hall’s virtual audience “that’s going to be my only political statement for the day” after discussing COVID-19.
Young said her company was very fortunate to have access to essential oils, and at one point sprayed a Young Living-branded household cleaner directly into her mouth. She said that she wasn’t afraid amid the pandemic and said she hadn’t been sick in decades due to her use of essential oils.
There is no evidence that oils have any effect on coronavirus.
“She very much believes — and there is a lot of religion tied up in it — that God wanted us to bring this to the world. I think she very much believes there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with essential oils,” one employee said. “It feels like I’m complicit in an industry that leads to people not seeking actual medical care because they’d rather just use the oils, and it feels like I’m kind of helping to take advantage of other people which is a really dirty feeling.”
Young Living typically circulates videos of company-wide meetings soon after they occur, but has not yet distributed a video of the most recent one. A spokesperson for the company declined to provide a video or a transcript.
Young did not respond to questions for this article. The Young Living spokesperson offered the following statement to Business Insider:
In March 2020, Young Living made a quick transition to remote work. Then in May the company was among the first companies in the nation to announce that the employees at our global headquarters would be working from home through the end of the year. This policy remains in place. The invitation Mary Young extended last week to work in our Lehi, Utah office was in an effort to provide employees greater flexibility — especially those without an adequate working environment at home. The company will continue to follow all relevant federal, state and local guidelines as it relates to precautions against COVID-19, including encouraging wearing face coverings and social distancing.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Young Living has placed an abundance of caution on creating safe work environments, especially for those employees who are unable to work from home. The company has implemented additional measures as recommended by local, state and national authorities. Employees in our manufacturing facilities and farms have been provided with face coverings and other personal protective equipment and the warehouse has implemented temperature checks, contract tracing and social distancing policies such as staggered shifts where appropriate.
“For [Mary] to be sitting there saying it’s not a big deal was pretty demoralizing,” one of the Young Living employees said. “It’s really sad that one month we are having a moment of silence [for the employee who died]… and the next, COVID is not real.”
“It’s deeply offensive for everyone who has lost someone from COVID or knows someone who has suffered from it, and it’s also really hard to take pride in being part of the Young Living organization when the person who’s running it is so adamantly opposed to science and research and doctors,” this person added.