T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile stores in shopping malls have now officially been closed in response to COVID-19. That reportedly also includes authorized 'dealerships'. The closure went into effect on Sunday and will remain in effect indefinitely.
The indeterminate length of the store closures stems from the source of the decision. Namely, T-Mobile is following US government guidance regarding social distancing. The spread of COVID-19 in the US has now officially been announced as a pandemic. Shutting down the shops is meant to keep consumers home and limit close-quarters contact between people.
Specifically, that's meant to limit contact between those who would otherwise be visiting the stores and employees. Since there's no timeline regarding when guidance will be lifted, T-Mobile can't guarantee that the stores will be opened again on any given date.
How does this impact T-Mobile employees in mall stores?
T-Mobile will reportedly not be dropping its workforce in order to close down its in-mall stores. Following examples set by other tech companies, the mobile carrier is allowing any employees who are able to work from home to do so. It isn't immediately clear exactly what jobs or tasks those employees will undertake from home. But it seems likely that supporting customers via its online chat or phone services will be part of the package.
For those employees that aren't able to work from home, the company is going quite a bit further. The company says it will 'compensate' all T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile store employees working at indoor shopping malls. Those workers will continue being compensated until at least the end of the month. But that could ultimately be extended depending on changes to the underlying guidance.
Will other carriers follow suit and what does this mean for the merger?
T-Mobile is actually the second of the nation's carriers to begin closing some stores in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's not the first to find a way to pay employees while the stores are closed either.
Verizon recently announced that it too would be shutting down shops in lieu of coronavirus. The nation's largest provider will additionally be letting affected employees work from home. That's aimed at helping offset unfulfilled customer service needs.
T-Mobile is arguably in a position that forces it to continue paying employees who are out of work too. That comes down to the company's promise to not only open more network but also more locations as part of its merger with Sprint. A significant portion of the carrier's concessions have centered around job creation and maintaining current employees wherever possible.
The company likely wants to keep its workforce intact and paid in order to keep the merger going forward. The merger may also be behind T-Mobile's decision to include not only official stores but also stores associated with its MVNO and other authorized retailers in the closures.
Now, that merger hasn't been finalized yet. So Sprint may be forced to shut down its own stores too. That would leave AT&T as well as the various carriers' MVNOs to work out their own responses to the still-developing circumstances.