Six businesses that found themselves to be ‘Covid Villains’

Business Leader Magazine recently highlighted the Top 32 Business Heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic – these were just a selection of the companies and individuals who stood out during the pandemic due to how they went over and above for the good of their customers and employees.

However, there were an unfortunate number of companies and their leaders that didn’t cover themselves in glory, whether it was because they failed to support their staff or have completely mis-handled their approach to the pandemic.

Here, Business Leader revisits some of the Covid Villains.

Tim Martin – Wetherspoons

The continually controversial owner of British restaurant chain, Tim Martin, suggested his 40,000 staff should go to work at Tesco amid uncertainty over their futures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin stated that he would not continue to pay employees who were not working, due to the restrictions imposed due to the spread of COVID-19.

In a rambling video, Martin suggested that his employees go and work for Tesco – as all the major supermarkets were on a hiring spree.

He has also had to battle further bad press, due to his stewardship of the business in the last few months. They company also recently reported a fall in sales (link to article).

Rick Stein

TV chef and restauranteur, Stein, told his employees they would not receive their wages after he shut his restaurants due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

He told the employees at his restaurants across the UK that they would not receive their wages until the government subsidy scheme was in place. This decision left his staff without any money for over a month.

Following a mass outburst towards his decision – which was made on a post on Instagram – Stein was forced to make a statement to defend his actions.

Mike Ashley – Fraser Group

Another business owner who is never too far away from controversy, Ashley had to issue a public apology after his spat with the government about trying to keep his Sports Direct chain open when non-essential businesses were ordered to close.

Ashley’s Frasers Group intended to keep Sports Direct open as other non-essential retailers closed, on the basis that selling sporting and fitness equipment made the company a vital asset as the public were forced to stay at home.

Ashley eventually bowed to government pressure and shut his stores – which included House of Fraser. However, he did admit that Sports Direct was struggling to enforce the government’s COVID-19 regulations for its thousands of workers.


Despite reporting record increase in revenues, online fashion retailer Boohoo has had its own COVID-19 controversies over the last few months. There were reports of dangerous working practices at a distribution centre in Leicester. However, the firm also come under fire for selling fashion face masks during the pandemic that offered no protection to the virus. Boohoo has apologised and removed the masks from its website, insisting they were not designed for protection.


In the early weeks of the pandemic, budget airline Ryanair told its passengers that it would not pay refunds for cancelled flights until the coronavirus crisis was ‘over’. The budget airline did offer customers who had flights cancelled because of the pandemic vouchers or an alternative flight at a later date. However, if passengers wanted a cash refund, they would have to wait until restrictions are lifted.

They then told angry customers that refunds were not available as there staff were working from home and that the process of organising returns would take a long time anyway.

Virgin Group

The British multinational conglomerate has had an eventful COVID-19 pandemic. Across the world, the various Virgin companies within the leisure and tourism industry have been devastated by the coronavirus. Virgin Atlantic tried to secure a £500m government bailout. Virgin Atlantic asked staff to take eight weeks off without pay at the height of the pandemic, which drew a lot of negative attention.

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