Former Chop Tops stylists claim owners put employees, clients at risk for COVID-19 exposure

Posted at 7:07 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 20:07:02-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Former employees at Westport's Chop Tops Salon claim their bosses continued to work while positive for COVID-19.

They said it's one of several concerns they have about how the business is handling the pandemic.

Cora Hoaglin, former Chop Tops stylist, is one of several who spoke to 41 Action News about her concerns.

Hoaglin said the business's owners worked inside the building, along other coworkers, while positive for the virus.

"We all had been working around them, they were checking in on Facebook, we have schedules with their names on it from when they were working," Hoaglin said.

In an email to 41 Action News, owner Cynthia Holopter said she and her husband contracted COVID-19 on Oct. 11 and did not return to work until Oct. 26.

Hoaglin and other employees claim both were in the building during that time frame.

"During the last two weeks of October, we had two people leaving within the same 24-hour period, just onto different jobs, so the owners were in much more frequently to say goodbye and work with those staff," former stylist Makayla Allen said.

In an interview with 41 Action News, Megan Vanderhagen, salon coordinator and Cynthia's daughter, said her parents did not work in the building during their two-week quarantine.

"That's just simply not true," Vanderhagen said, "and, I mean, we have software that records every key stroke. We have to login with our usernames. They can clearly not be seen in any of that database."

Former employees shared with 41 Action News screenshots of Holopter doing Facebook check-ins during the two-week time frame.

Vanderhagen said her mother was just dropping off supplies at the back door and not coming into contact with anyone.

"I think it's important to her as a salon business owner to remain present on social media,," Vanderhagen said, "and if you go back on my mom's Facebook it's constant check-ins at the salon."

Hoaglin said workers were frustrated they did not learn of the positive results until a month later in an email.

"We were all then told to lie and say to clients that we've had zero Covid cases at Chop Tops when in fact we've had four," Hoaglin said.

Hoaglin said Holopter posted on employees' Facebook group to tell clients the salon has had zero COVID-19 incidents.

Vanderhagen, however, said this was taken out of context.

"That was in regards to no trace-backs to the salon from clients or employees giving clients COVID," Vanderhagen said.

Former employees also said they were never told about a coworker testing positive for COVID-19 who had been working for several days prior.

"None of that stylists' clients were contacted, and they had worked two full days touching and interacting with clients," Hoaglin said.

At the time of that employee's positive test, Vanderhagen said, the business hadn't been told by the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department it needed to contact clients.

A spokesperson for the health department said it became aware of the complaints via 311 and called the business to go over the city's newest COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. The case is now closed, but the spokesperson said if additional employees have concerns they can submit a new complaint.

41 Action News asked the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department if businesses are required to contact clients if an employee tests positive. A spokesperson said this is part of the Mayor's 11th Amended Order, Section 2 B i:

Business operations should maintain a record of occupants who are seated on the premises or in contact with stationary furniture, fixtures, or other equipment at a facility for a period of longer than ten minutes. Salons may, for example, satisfy the registration recommendation by maintaining a roster of reservations or appointments.

The spokesperson also said in normal times, the health department would investigate, identify close contacts and contact them. However, with case counts surging, the department, like many others, cannot contact trace everyone.

Vanderhagen said she's had two phone conversations with the health department who gave instruction on how to contact trace moving forward. Vanderhagen said she was notified by the department the business is required to call if any more employees test positive.

The health department sent this statement to 41 Action News about quarantining:

If you are on isolation or quarantine, do not leave your residence or allow others to visit for the entire duration…PERIOD. Our contact tracers alerted us to something they’re hearing from many people they call; they say people are going out to run errands, going to work, gathering with family and friends, even though they are experiencing symptoms, even though they are in quarantine or isolation. This is wrong and is absolutely contributing to the rapid rise in cases and hospitals overflowing with patients and understaffing.

Employees also claim they were fired for sharing concerns on social media. Hoaglin said she shared a post put up by a former employee that had concerns about the owners and she received an email minutes later saying she was fired.

Vanderhagen said she could not comment on personal matters with employees.

"As far as concerns over safety, we would never ever fire or terminate somebody if they brought up a safety concern," Vanderhagen said.

Several employees resigned over the weekend, including five-year employee Kat Thorpe.

"If you want to go somewhere you can feel safe and feel taken care of, it is 100% not the place that you need to go," Thorpe said, "especially if you are an individual who is at high risk for COVID."

Makayla Allen also resigned over the weekend.

"I think that at this point it is absolutely worth being jobless than letting my integrity suffer like this," Allen said.

Vanderhagen is adamant the business has taken proper steps to protect employees and clients.

"We've done everything in our power to keep our clients safe, our employees safe," Vanderhagen said. "We still have 22 employees that have families and their livelihoods are being greatly affected by all of this and the false information that's being put out."