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AutoZone’s Pandemic Playbook Includes ‘Emergency Time Off’

During AutoZone’s fiscal 2021 first-quarter conference call, CEO Bill Rhodes emphasized that the company’s top priority “continues to be the health, safety and wellbeing of our customers and our AutoZoners.”

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Rhodes outlined the various measures AutoZone has implemented during the pandemic, such as requiring facemasks at all AutoZone facilities and providing masks and hand sanitizers to AutoZone employees.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the company announced it would be providing two weeks of “emergency time off,” or ETO, to full- and part-time hourly AutoZoners. Later in the year, the company extended the same benefit to store managers and distribution-center advisors.

“In essence, it amounted to two extra weeks of vacation, to give [AutoZoners] the flexibility to ensure their safety, deal with childcare issues, care for a sick family member or, most importantly, stay home if they were showing any symptoms,” Rhodes explained. “It has worked, and it’s worked exceptionally well.”

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When AutoZone introduced ETO earlier in the year, company leaders expected it to be “a one-time extraordinary benefit,” Rhodes noted. With the pandemic still raging, though, the company recently announced that employees can carry over any unused ETO into 2021 or receive a payout in January. AutoZone also will offer another week of ETO to all eligible full- and part-time hourly employees, store managers and DC advisors in the United States, starting in the new calendar year.

Rhodes told analysts on the conference call that the ETO benefits will come with a $50 million price tag, which the company will recognize in its second-quarter financials.

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“As I told our AutoZoners on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when I made the announcement, it’s a large expense, but more importantly, it’s a tremendous investment in them and their safety,” Rhodes said. “I’m exceptionally proud to work with a team of leaders and a board of directors who ensure we live consistent with our stated values.”

Rhodes also made a point to thank the company’s employees for “their extraordinary efforts during these unprecedented times.”

“I ask each of you listening to this call to stop for a moment and imagine yourself in a public environment, five-plus days a week for the last nine months, helping customers, while at the same time trying to keep yourself, your teammates, your customers and, ultimately, your own family safe from the virus. Seriously, seriously stop and think about that.

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“That is exactly what our team has done. Our stores haven’t closed. Our distribution centers are operating at breakneck speed. Thanks to these AutoZoners in our stores and distribution centers for all they’ve done.”

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