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We demand BuzzFeed pay out earned paid time off to its recent laid-off employees (medium.com)
85 points by minimaxir 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

There’s just one paragraph missing.

If PTO isn’t paid out on termination, then PTO cannot be safely accrued.

The undersigned should state that this behavior leaves them with no choice but to draw down their PTO balance, perhaps starting a specific day next week.

But I wonder if the employees that weren’t in a state which requires paying out PTO balances had expected to be paid their PTO balance? Usually this is one of those things that’s addressed in the employment contract.

The US is just nuts. Are you saying that your earned but unused PTO doesn't have to be paid out to you when you're laid off but is rather at the discretion of the employer? How is that justifiable in any way? Does the bank owe you accrued interest when you close your account or is it up to them to pay it? Why would it be different for PTO?

Non-salary benefits used to be extremely uncommon in the USA. During WW2, price and wage controls were enacted that made it illegal to increase prices for many types of goods, or salaries for many types of employees. This made it almost impossible for employers to find enough employees, so they started finding creative ways to sweeten the deal besides just increasing salary. Thus, virtually everyone now gets health insurance from an insurance company chosen by their employer rather than one they choose themselves, we tip workers that do certain jobs rather than paying them a normal wage, time off is negotiated ahead of time, etc.

It's state by state. New York allows it based on the contract. California is explicit that earned PTO must be paid.

At my first job in US I had about a year and a half of unused PTO accumulated. I gave my two week notice like a good team player I was and then left on the agreed upon date.

I obviously didn't get any of the PTO paid to me and in retrospect realize that I could have just taken my last two weeks off with the same outcome.

I was so sure that there must be some law that would force employer to pay out unused PTO, that I haven't even thought about researching it in advance. This was a rude "welcome to United States, bitch" awakening for me.

How does one accrue a year and a half of paid time off?

Don't most companies cap it at 5 days or something?

A place I used to work set it at 160 hours, got bought, then changed it to 80 hours, everyone made a big enough stink by threatening to take off during critical times. They changed it the cap to two times your yearly accrual rate which put the cap somewhere between 240 and 400 hours depending on your seniority. The cap was nice but it was almost impossible to use that much leave with the amount of job responsibility you had. You could sell your hours but it had to be agreed on at the beginning of the year and the payout spread out across the year so there was no way you could get a quick influx of cash.

Presumably what is meant is PTO accrued over a year and a half of working, which would most likely mean a couple of weeks of PTO.

Sorry, didn't make it clear enough. I meant I worked for a company for a year and a half without ever taking time off.

> How is that justifiable in any way?

Simply: Corporate greed.

Or, executives trying to save any penny they can, so if the company is ever gobbled up by a large conglomerate, such as NBC or Combast, or merged with another media company, people like Jonah Peretti, Lenke Taylor and Ben Smith can laugh their way to the bank.

> How is that justifiable in any way?

My understanding is that it is stated in the contract.

I am guessing they didn't expect to get laid off. Employment contracts can be tricky to negotiate, since at that point you usually want the job. It also isn't something most people do regularly or even know much about. Especially not if they are relatively young.

Maybe they BuzzFeed's remaining employees should unionize to keep this same shit from happening to them.

Another company tried that: "News workers unionized. Days later, they were jobless. Was it payback?" https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/04/dnainfo-goth...

See also Mic,[1] which laid off its entire editorial staff in response to the formation of a union (but prior to a contract being signed).

For counterexamples, see Vice,[2] which negotiated a nearly 30% pay hike in their first union contract, and Slate,[3] whose editorial union recently negotiated a $51,000 starting salary with annual pay increases.

Note that a union is not a guarantee against layoffs. See [4]: the Huffington Post recently lost 15 of its unionized employees to a layoff. On the upside, they were contractually guaranteed severance pay - because they collectively bargained for it.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/mic-layoff-bustle-union-labo...

[2] https://gawker.com/vice-writers-get-a-union-contract-with-a-...

[3] https://wwd.com/business-news/media/slate-media-editorial-st...

[4] https://twitter.com/HuffPostUnion/status/1088524725259628544

If they go that route, I hope they have the sense to create their own union instead of going with one of the giant established organizations.

Easier said than done.

This seems like an excellent thing to ask for the next time they're negotiating a contract.

But it seems a bit late to complain about the terms of a contract after said contract has ended.

That's pretty much the classic mistake individuals make when dealing with businesses though. There's no reason to restrict yourself to the legal system and terms of a contract if you think you have leverage enough to do better.

read your contract when you get hired, people. You shouldn't expect anything more than what's guaranteed right there in front of you.

The funny thing is a lot of people think the company they work for cares about their wellbeing.

When you realize they don't care about you, they will feel it. And your pay will go up. I guarantee.

You mind elaborating on this? Are you saying the mentality is to just show up, do the job within the allotted day then head home, knowing the company doesn't owe you thing, no matter how many extra hours you put in?

Seems like a good idea to me. Why go above and beyond when the company won’t do the same for you?

This x1000.

If a benefit isn't spelled out in black and white, it should be considered non-existent.

Example: I used to get a ham at Christmas time. This was a gift from the company (i.e not in my contact). We had a bad year in 2017 and there was no ham - that's fine.

How is paying what's due a "benefit"?

PTO is a benefit since there is no law that it has to be given out. Paying out PTO after you leave is another thing that isn't mandated so therefore it's a benefit. PTO and the payout of the balance shouldn't be a benefit, it should be the law.

I've never actually had what can be described as an "employment contract," the only thing is I've ever signed is a paper saying my starting salary, full time status, and that I'm "at will" so employment can be terminated for any reason by either party.

Policies like this (PTO accruals, buybacks, etc.) are determined by HR policies that are unilaterally published by the company, but they aren't "guaranteed" by any means; HR policies can (and do) change at any time with no notice. So how does "reading my employment contract" protect me? They can just change the policy from "we'll buyback your unused PTO" to "you forfeit unused PTO" a week before the layoffs. I've actually seen this exact thing happen before. (end PTO buybacks then immediately enact mass layoffs)

Once I worked for a company for about 3 or 4 years during that time they dropped the 401(k) match completely (no advanced notice), dropped long term disability (maybe a week advanced notice), dropped max PTO accruals, and changed the health insurance significantly every single year, including changing the company managing the plan. Then there's always the classic "we're changing the PTO accrual schedule."

Do you people who apparently have "employment contracts" sign a new one every time your pay changes? Or benefits change? What if someone refused to sign the new one? Then they'd just get fired on the spot, so it's basically the same thing as a unilateral company directive, just with a lot of handwavings.

This. Right on the money. Got absolutely clobbered for saying the same thing in a different way - this situation is a hard, abject lesson in read-what-you-sign.

Why, why do so many "trendy" companies shit on workers rights?

Because just as individual contributors change employers a lot, managers also change employers often enough that the reputation of mistreating workers doesn't stick to anything.

My own employer recently hired a handful of senior HR folks from Uber. They started after I joined. I hate it, but what can I do? I know they were present at Uber during Susan Fowler's very strange year; I don't know if they were actually the people making decisions. And if I preemptively quit, what is my guarantee that the next place will be any better?

Talk to the person that hired them, and see what sort of references they came with.

Is going to HR and saying "Hey, I'm skeptical of these new HR hires, convince me" really a winning move? It seems like a losing one.

I really can't imagine that unless you're a senior manager yourself. Most likely the answer would be a surprised and more or less sensibly worded "it's none of your business".

That's even assuming you know whose responsible for hiring them, which you don't, unless you work in a 5 person company.

Trendy companies tend to hire young people who are desperate for a career-starting job. As an individual they have no power in that situation, which I suspect is why this letter has been signed collectively by a lot of Buzzfeed staff.

Because it's a company with at-will employment. Businesses are operational functions that maximize value for a pool of shareholders. Unless you're in the pool, you're a cost and a liability.

They prey on the young. Look at BuzzFeed's staff demographic. A lot of them are younger than 35. Five years ago, BuzzFeed, at least in the journalism community, seemed like the place to be: the company was growing, their news team was just getting off the ground and the resources seemed endless. One would think the traffic brought in by Disney princess quizzes would pay the bills. Sadly, that is not the case.

Video is still king over there. I'd be curious to know how many videographers and video editors lost their jobs compared to reporters.

Could be because they're companies. And it's not like BuzzFeed has a reputation to lose.

Because Buzzfeed is not a trendy company. It’s a tabloid dressed up as journalism.

If it breaks real news, with real sources, that turn out to be real stories that they had real scoops on does it matter?

If it barks like journalism and wags its tail like journalism than is it not journalism? (it might also have fleas like a dog!)

Same argument for "trendy company".

The company I currently work at uses the term "awarded" instead of accrued for PTO. This is their way of justifying not paying out unused PTO at termination (ie. it was not "earned" therefor they don't have to pay it out).

There really needs to be more national level laws around PTO. Like my current employer has a policy to pay it out, but recently they've decided to cut our maximum rollovers from 6+ weeks (150% of accrual) to 1 week maximum from year to year. First world problems but this year I'm going to be taking a ton of days off.

I mean sure they can do that, but why can't we just have a set rule and stick with it?

i thought this was the law?

Edit: oh only in CA

It’s worth noting many CA BuzzFeed employees (including myself) signed the petition.

Max, what is your take on what's going on? Would love an insider's perspective, to the extent that you're comfortable with giving it.

Other BF employees on Twitter (and recently-laid off employees) attest to the current mood better than I can. https://twitter.com/search?q=https%3A%2F%2Fmedium.com%2F%40B...

It is, in California. Most states don't have that requirement though.

Even though buzz feed is awful and just contributes to cultural obesity, they should pay people accrued pto. This is a lowlife move.

yep i fully agree with you

A company does no more than what's required by the law. I'm not sure I can get upset about that.

Can we get upset at the (lack of) law?


Do you extend this sentiment to people as well? Or do you sometimes get upset when people do evil or immoral thing that technically stays on the right side of the law?

I do if I don't know or trust them. Of course I can dislike those people and stop my dealing with them, but I can't really be surprised they're doing something they're allowed to do.


> what am I missing?

That this is about Buzzfeed News, a serious news site which has won serveral awards and honors for its reporting [1], not Buzzfeed, the listicle, pop culture, click-bait, gossip site [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BuzzFeed_News

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BuzzFeed

I've never found this argument convincing. "This is not the bad part of the organization. This is the part they spun up to help bolster their reputation so the bad part can continue to make money".

That said, it's a bit tangential to the core issue here. People should get payed out for their accrued PTO.

The New York Times publishes gossip, entertainment, and crossword puzzles, as well as their news and in-depth reporting.

Buzzfeed publishes gossip, entertainment, and online quizzes, as well as their news and in-depth reporting.

That aside, they should get paid for their PTO.

The layoffs affected all areas of the company, not just BuzzFeed News.

At a minimum, you're missing some of the site guidelines.

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

"Please don't comment about the voting on comments. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.

So could you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and not post like that to HN?

Laborers deserve to be paid for their labor, and compensated fairly. Regardless of what one thinks of the labor.

The concerns of labor should be given as much weight as the concerns of profit maximization.

> Laborers deserve to be paid for their labor, and compensated fairly.

Everyone has a different notion of what's "fair". How about we write down an agreement about it on paper before doing business with someone, sign it and then just stick to it?

Contracts reflect bargaining power, not fairness.

What's the difference?

Assuming that people know what "some PC expose that ruins a person's life forever" refers to.

Citations for those claims, are what's missing.

You missed that people are employed with rights to accrue leave, but only some have it bound in states rights laws and that BuzzFeed is trying to avoid honouring the spirit of employment conditions their staff worked under?

I think they’re saying if they played loose with ethics in their management encouraging suspect reporting that one can expect the same ethics when it comes to their business end of things.

Yea.. that would make sense: be careful who you work for, lest the conditions of employment turn out to reflect a side of things you normally saw turned on others?

Sounds similar to Vice Media and their sexual harassment problem...

I really wish these companies did a lot better because honestly now I just feel cynical about paying attention to what they’re publishing that I just try and avoid online media altogether.

> BuzzFeed is trying to avoid honouring the spirit of employment conditions their staff worked under

Which on its own could support the idea that if a corporation can't self-govern to be fair to its current and former employees without asterisks and gotchas, some greater (e.g. government) or counter (e.g. union) authority should hold the company accountable.

I do believe that all BuzzFeed employees should be entitled to their PTO if they were misled to believe they would get it when they worked there. As for whether unionization or more regulation is necessary here, I do not know enough about the issue to form a strong opinion -- the above observation was just an observation.

Because not every employee was complicit in that....... And those that weren’t most definitely DO deserve their PTO.

The problem is when you say “same people” you’re just lumping everyone together and implying everyone at Buzzfeed news was trying to run articles that ruins a person’s life forever. That’s what you’re missing.


> Why should BuzzFeed and its employees not get

Because we're meant to learn as children that that's a dangerous and counter-productive path to go down.

If we're actually serious about expecting people to live up to the standards we're arguing for, we need to be willing to live up to them ourselves.

not all buzzfeed employees

it's funny you don't like this argument in the context of buzzfeed. when i made the same point to the thread-mob hating on facebook employees, no one shared my view that maybe not all employees of a company that has issues are responsible for those issues.

I think you're missing making the same comments about other people who ruin lives in an instant, like police, soldiers, prosecutors, lawmakers, BuzzFeed's board of directors, etc. yet also demand vacation time.

No you’re absolutely right. Do as they say not as they do.


Which parts of their news is fake? Aside from some recent claims by the current Presidency (who claims that about any non-positive reference), I’m unaware that they’ve invented anything, in part or in full, to claim it as news.

They may be annoying as all get-out in some aspects of their overall operation, but you’re claiming they make shit up?

Before you complain about down-votes, how about telling us what you're on about?

I've worked for many companies that don't pay out accrued PTO - PTO at those companies was use-it-or-lose-it. But I also understood that going in, and I understood that when I read the employee handbooks and explanation of benefits.

It seems folks might have overlooked that bit of their employment. California is obviously a large exception. However, if an employer doesn't state that you get a particular benefit, or fails to explain how a benefit is managed, the onus falls on the employee to understand what they're signing on for. To expect otherwise drips of entitlement.

One of the issues here is that PTO isn't always easy to use.

> No one at BuzzFeed told me not to use PTO. I had a lot saved because I was busy and wanted to be there for my team.


> I have worked more holidays than I can count, and have gone on tough reporting trips where I’ve worked 16-hour days for days in a row.

> I have about a month’s worth of comp days as a result. If I’d been laid off Friday, I wouldn’t have gotten paid for it.


Yes, that all boils down to accountability for one's own choices. They made poor choices, that's just what it is. Now they're clamoring for something that wasn't promised to them. There's a degree of responsibility that these folks are tossing out the window in favor of entitlement.


Please read up on the guidelines of HN. I really hate to backseat mod but I've seen a sharp rise in people complaining about their posts being downvoted and it adds absolutely nothing to the conversation.

That might indicate that some additional measures could be used to encourage dissenting opinion without a comment being sent to the black pit of despair in quick fashion.

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