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BuzzFeed CEO Defends Decision to Not Pay Most Laid-Off Employees for Accrued Time-Off Days

BuzzFeed chief exec Jonah Peretti is being criticized by current and former employees over the company’s decision to not pay laid-off staffers (except for those in California) for their paid time-off days, in the wake of BuzzFeed slashing 15% of its workforce.

In an open letter posted Saturday on Medium addressed to BuzzFeed’s senior managers, a group identifying itself as the “BuzzFeed News Staff Council” demanded that the company pay pink-slipped employees the full value of their accrued vacation days and other time-off allowances. The letter now has been signed by more than 500 people.

BuzzFeed is including paid time-off as part of severance for employees based in California — where that step is required by law — but for those in other states it has not. Peretti has agreed to meet with the members of the staff who raised the objection and has “indicated I’m willing to re-evaluate,” he wrote in a tweet Monday.

However, Peretti also defended BuzzFeed’s decision to not compensate terminated employees for their accrued PTO where it isn’t required by law.

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“I get that people might want a different policy but for NYC based companies this is very common and we looked at the total severance consideration and it was fair,” Peretti wrote. He added, “I can’t really have this discussion in public, can’t share all relevant information on twitter, but I look forward to being very open-minded and transparent with the staff council in our upcoming meeting.”

BuzzFeed’s workforce is not unionized, and Peretti in the past has said that he doesn’t think unionization “is right” for the company.

In his tweets Monday, Peretti was responding to the hosts of BuzzFeed’s own “AM to DM” morning talk show on Twitter, Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald, who discussed the layoffs and the controversy over the paid time-off decision on Monday’s show.

BuzzFeed announced on Jan. 23 that it would lay off 15% of its workforce across the company, with Peretti citing a need to boost profitability in an internal memo. On Friday, BuzzFeed News cut its entire national news desk and nearly the entire national security team, among others who lost their jobs.

BuzzFeed’s head of HR, Lenke Taylor, in a response to the letter staffers posted on Medium, noted that the company is giving all laid-off employees severance packages of a minimum 10 weeks pay. BuzzFeed also is extending their benefits through April.

“We are open to re-evaluating this decision but we think it is important for everyone to understand the tradeoffs in changing the PTO practice, how we came to the decision to offer everyone a minimum of 10 weeks salary, and the ways we’ve adjusted our severance to be fair and competitive in every state where we operate,” Taylor wrote in the response. BuzzFeed is promising to provide updated details on next steps about scheduling a meeting.

Read the full text of the letter from the BuzzFeed News Staff Council, addressed to Peretti, Taylor, and BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith:

We are the BuzzFeed News Staff Council, a group of employees appointed to open up the lines of communication between News employees and company management. We have urgent concerns about the sweeping layoffs hitting the whole company — not just News. This letter is cosigned by current and laid-off staffers from across BuzzFeed who strongly share this concern.

Every aspect of the way that these layoffs have been handled so far — from communication to execution to aftermath — has been deeply upsetting and disturbing, and it will take a long time to repair the damage that has been done to our trust in this company. But there’s one thing you can do right now to help the employees who are losing their jobs.

BuzzFeed is refusing to pay out earned, accrued, and vested paid time off for almost all US employees who have been laid off. They will only pay out PTO to employees in California, where the law requires it. We understand that in other states where BuzzFeed employees have been laid off, state law does not require you to do so. But employers absolutely can pay out PTO — and often do. It is a choice, and for a company that has always prided itself on treating its employees well, we unequivocally believe it is the only justifiable choice.

This is paid time that employees accrued by choosing not to take vacation days, and instead do their work at BuzzFeed. Many of the employees who have been laid off had the most difficult jobs in terms of scheduling — such as the breaking and curation teams on BuzzFeed News who regularly worked weekends and holidays, or managers who weren’t able to use vacation time because they were expected to be available to their teams. They saved up those days (or weeks) because they were so dedicated to their work, and, in some cases, felt actively discouraged from taking time off. They have as much of a right to those days as anyone else.

For many people, paying out PTO will be the difference between whether or not bills and student loans will be paid on time and how their families are supported. It is unconscionable that BuzzFeed could justify doing so for some employees and not others in order to serve the company’s bottom line.

We, the undersigned, stand together in demanding that BuzzFeed pay out earned PTO to all laid-off employees, regardless of the state they live in, to eliminate this disparity. It is the only just way to proceed — especially as this round of layoffs has been so damaging to your workforce as a whole — to pay your employees for the time they earned while working so hard to make BuzzFeed a successful company.

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