Tim Martin indicated the company would not continue to pay employees who were now not working after pubs in the UK were closed to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Instead, in a rambling video sent out late on Monday, the 64-year-old said that supermarkets were hiring – and wished his workers good luck.
“I know that all our trade now has gone to supermarkets,” he says in the recording since posted to YouTube. “Not only our trade, but the trade from cafés, leisure centres, restaurants, etcetera.
"So we have had lots of calls from supermarkets – Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them. That's half the amount of people who work in our pubs."
In the recording, Mr Martin - seen clutching a mug and apparently at home - acknowledges the government will pay 80 per cent of the wages of staff at companies who have lost work during the crisis.
But he said the money could take weeks to come through, and made no suggestion that Wetherspoon itself would cover the cost until the back payments arrived. The company has an annual turnover of £1.8 billion.
In contrast to firms such as Costa – which has promised to carry on paying full wages for at least eight weeks – Mr Martin also suggested staff would receive no more than the government stipend.
“If I'm honest, I could say you can get the furlough payments and stay at home,” he says. "[But] If you're offered a job at a supermarket, many of you will want to do that. If you think it's a good idea, do it.
"I can completely understand it. If you've worked for us before I promise we will give you first preference if you want to come back.
"I completely understand if you don't want to wait around for us to reopen but deeply appreciate your work."
He finishes his message by telling staff it was nice to meet them and wishes them luck.
But if he believed his approach to be financially prudent, it may well come to backfire.
When the video was posted to social media, it was met with widespread condemnation that such a wealthy company was offering such apparent little support to workers.
“Top of the list of places I will never visit again once this is over,” wrote one on Twitter. “We will remember,” another added.
The new controversy comes just days after Mr Martin urged the government not to shut pubs and said there was no evidence the virus spread within them.
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