Courtesy of Bonhams.

Bonhams Announces Closures Following Staff Complaints

Following an article published by Artnews detailing staff complaints about the working conditions at Bonhams amid the coronavirus pandemic, the auction house moved to close several of its locations and is preparing to hold upcoming sales behind closed doors. Competitors such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s have already shuttered following the recommendations of public health officials.

“In light of the current situation, and in accordance with government advice, Bonhams is taking extra health and safety precautions to protect both clients and staff,” the auction house said in a statement on its website. “From Friday 20 March, Bonhams offices will be closed (with the exception of Bonhams Hong Kong) and salerooms in UK (New Bond Street and Knightsbridge, London and Edinburgh), New York, and Los Angeles, will be closed to the general public, with the exception of viewings, strictly by appointment.”

The announcement was made after the arts publication reported on Wednesday that management and human resource representatives at the auction house’s Los Angeles branch pressured employees to come to work and refused to allow them to remote-in despite the United States government’s push to contain COVID-19—according to the Los Angeles Times, sixteen counties in the Bay Area, the North Coast, and Central California have already ordered residents to shelter in place.

One source told Artnews that an employee who developed a fever after returning from a business trip continued to show up for work despite having flu-like symptoms. The individual, a member of the visitor services department, was unable to confirm whether they had contracted the coronavirus because of the nationwide shortage of tests. “There has been pressure to come into the office at all costs,” the source said. “I would like to see Bonhams put client and employee health first.”

In emails to staffers, the auction house defended its actions and said that the company was taking the public health crisis very seriously. An excerpt from one email from Lauren Mitchum, the vice president of business operations for Bonhams, US, read: “At this time, neither California nor New York have passed statewide laws or implemented statewide public health orders requiring, prohibiting, or limiting remote work for employees who are not ill. We cannot keep the sales going and service our clients with such requests made with little or no notice.”