NASHVILLE (RNS) — Christian personal finance guru Dave Ramsey hopes his staff will spread peace and goodwill during the Christmas season.
They may also be spreading COVID-19.
Ramsey Solutions, the company founded by the bestselling author and radio host, plans to host “Boots & BBQ,” a large in-person Christmas party, for hundreds of staff members at the company’s Franklin, Tennessee, headquarters, despite an outbreak of more than 50 cases at the company’s headquarters as late as mid-November.
An invitation, sent to the company’s 800 staffers in a newsletter obtained by RNS, advises that no children are allowed at the Christmas bash and that employees are limited to one guest apiece. No mention is made of masks being required.
In staff meetings and on his radio show, Ramsey described masks and other COVID-19 prevention strategies as a sign of fear.
More than 2,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Tennessee, where more than 5,200 people have died of complications from the virus. There have been more than 428,000 cases of COVID-19 in the state.
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Ramsey Solutions does not require masks at its offices — Dave Ramsey himself has been a vocal opponent of mask-wearing and other COVID restrictions. In a clip from his daily radio show, posted on YouTube in November, Ramsey railed against what he called “totalitarian” government restrictions and mask mandates, saying he wanted to “start a crusade” against them.
The Dave Ramsey Show is known for its host’s folksy financial advice balanced with a moralizing disdain for debt. One of the show’s highlights is a listener’s call featuring a “debt-free scream” to mark their liberation from consumer debt using Ramsey’s methods.
Since March, Ramsey Solutions has had about 100 cases of COVID-19 among its employees, according to a recording of a mid-November staff call obtained by Religion News Service.
Among that number were about 50 cases in mid-November, Ramsey Solutions Executive Director of Human Resources Armando Lopez told staff on the Nov. 13 call.
“There are 50 people that are somewhere in the neighborhood who are either positive or returning to work,” Lopez said.
Ramsey Solutions did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Lopez or other leaders.
During the November call, Lopez acknowledged the entire country — including suburban Williamson County, where Ramsey Solutions is located — was seeing spiking COVID-19 numbers. “Williamson County has seen a huge increase in COVID cases. And so have we. Ramsey Solutions has seen a huge spike,” said Lopez.
The human resources director also said he feared the numbers were higher, admitting the company lacked an accurate system for tracking COVID-19 cases.
Despite the number of positive cases, Lopez told staff in November there were no plans to allow remote working. The company allowed staff to work from home during the initial weeks of the pandemic but has required them to return to company headquarters since May.
Lopez said Ramsey Solutions leadership had decided it was not “a work from home employer.”
“Can we be a work from home employer for a short period of time?” he said on the Nov. 13 call. “We have proven for five weeks it works. Can we? Yes. Are we? No.”
That message was repeated in a company newsletter sent on Nov. 20, which reported 32 positive cases among staff and another 17 staff awaiting tests. The newsletter encouraged staff to report any COVID-19 test results to human resources but maintained that the company would continue operating out of headquarters.
“We know that many of you have felt pressure from family and friends, some of whom think you are ‘weird’ for still going in to work,” said the newsletter.
“Fortunately we work in a place that is used to being called weird,” the newsletter continued, then highlighted Ramsey Solutions’ “countercultural approach to business.”
“And now we are weird for following common sense and using logic in providing for our families and our customers,” according to the newsletter.
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During the mid-November call with staff, Lopez said company leaders were not able to keep up with requests for exemptions to work from home, and employees were the best people to judge what is the right thing to do for their health. Some might decide they need to choose to quit their jobs, he said.
“We know we are going to lose some people through this,” he said. “It is harsh and hard for me to say this.”
The company has advised workers to social distance if possible and to stay home if they feel sick. In staff newsletters, the company has encouraged testing for COVID-19 but has also shared articles claiming the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated by the media.
“We are all adults here,” Luke Lefevre, a creative director at Ramsey, told employees in the Nov. 20 newsletter. “If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. Give yourself healthy space from others. Use the stairs if you can. Don’t be careless.”
The company has also continued to hold large events during the pandemic, including its “EntreLeadership Summit” in July. That event was scheduled to be held at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, but Ramsey moved the event to its Franklin offices after the Gaylord informed the company of significant COVID-19 restrictions, including mask checks, according to a lawsuit filed by Ramsey Solutions.
The summit was one of a series of “high-end experiences” put on by Ramsey, attracting thousands of business owners and other attendees, “each of whom spends between $5,000 and $15,000 to attend, inclusive of hotel,” according to the amended complaint in the suit.
The COVID-19 restrictions at the hotel, which included no buffets or other self-service food along with limited use of the pool or other amenities, made having the conference there untenable, Ramsey Solutions stated in the complaint.
In court documents, Ramsey Solutions claimed the change of venue cost the company $10 million in lost revenue.
During a July staff meeting after the summit, Ramsey accused the hotel’s leadership of breaking their word to him and the company. The mask requirement in particular irked Ramsey. He ridiculed the idea that hotel staff would enforce a mask requirement on guests.
“As you guys are well aware we don’t require masks but if someone wants to wear a mask we don’t mind,” according to a recording of the meeting obtained by RNS. “Everybody gets to choose what you want to do. This is America — a voluntary thing, you choose what you want to do. But we’re not going to have someone pay $10,000 for a ticket to have some $8 an hour twerp at Marriott giving them a hard time about wearing a mask.”
At a staff meeting after Thanksgiving, Ramsey continued his criticism of those who are ruled by “fear” of COVID-19 and are “freaking out” due to the pandemic.
“They have got fear, they have trepidation on the COVID, they are scared to death about whether or not they are meeting all the social cues on fear and masks and temperature controls,” he said on a recording of the meeting obtained by RNS.
By contrast, he said, staff at Ramsey Solutions would spread Christmas cheer and joy during the holidays — as well as courage, which he said was contagious.
The company, Ramsey said, would not be ruled by fear.
“Fear is not a fruit of the spirit,” he told his employees in the meeting, while rallying them to step up their performance during the holiday season. “It is not on the list. And so, while sometimes I am afraid, I do not make decisions — and I do not let my behaviors be — dictated by fear unless it involves getting out of the way of a car that is coming toward me.”