Holland & Barrett stores have remained open during the coronavirus lockdown, but workers are campaigning for them to close due to health and safety concerns.
The alternative health chain, which has 750 UK stores, is categorised as an essential retailer because it sells products catering for people with special dietary needs.
However, employees have set up a petition, campaigning to close stores because they feel their health is at risk.
They argue that the chain does not sell essential items, unlike supermarkets or pharmacies and warn that most stores are too small to allow safe social-distancing.
The petition says: “Being on the frontlines, 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 petition has garnered over 4,000 signatures.
Holland & Barrett said staff and customer safety is of “paramount importance.”
Some staff members have turned to Twitter to voice their concerns, with one employee tweeting: “Please close your stores. 90% of customers only buy non-essential products”.
@holland_barrett #holland_barrett please close your stores. 90% of customers only buy non-essential products. These should be forced to stay at home. Were helping add to the numbers by staying open. 😔 pic.twitter.com/Ekd5InXoEI— luke hale (@lukehal76338605) March 31, 2020
The retailer said it has provided gloves, masks and hand sanitiser to all stores and has also installed shielding screens at the counter.
It said social distancing is being enforced “with clear guidance in store.”
“We have limited the maximum number of customers allowed in the stores at any one time, dependent on store size, and tape has been installed marking out a two metre distance from the tills with clear signage throughout stores.”
A Holland & Barrett spokesperson told the BBC it had been advised by the government that it is an essential retailer expected to remain open during the lockdown.
“This relates to the fact that 90% of what we sell is food, vitamins and food supplements, which many of our customers rely on to manage their dietary or underlying conditions,” they said.
Examples the company cited included pregnant women in need of folic acid supplementation, Coeliacs, people 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.
Employees have highlighted that all Holland & Barrett products are available through its online store.
Holland & Barrett said: “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.”