After backlash, BuzzFeed says it will pay out earned paid time off to laid off employees
Posted January 28, 2019 7:17 p.m. EST
CNN — BuzzFeed will pay laid off employees for the paid time off they had earned but not used, it said Monday, reversing course after hundreds of current and former staffers signed an open letter demanding that it do so.
The news was relayed to employees on Monday evening, a BuzzFeed spokesperson told CNN.
The spokesperson, however, said company leadership was still evaluating the policy of paying employees earned paid time off moving forward.
BuzzFeed announced last week that it was slashing its workforce by 15%, and laid people off beginning on Friday in a process expected to last through this Wednesday. It had previously said laid off employees would be eligible for a severance package that included a minimum of 10 weeks of pay and a maximum of 16 weeks, depending on factors such as seniority. Those who got laid off were also told they would receive medical benefits through April.
But Jonah Peretti, the BuzzFeed founder and chief executive, had faced enormous backlash over the weekend and into Monday from employees who were furious about the company's decision not to pay laid off staffers for earned paid time off unless those staffers lived in states that forced the company to do so.
Over the weekend, a group of employees wrote a letter about the issue posted to Medium and addressed to Peretti, BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, and Lenke Taylor, the company's chief people officer.
And, on Monday, Isaac Fitzgerald and Saeed Jones, the two hosts of BuzzFeed's "AM2DM" morning show, excoriated their company for its handling of the issue.
"I think it's embarrassing and absurd to work for a company that puts such an emphasis on this idea that all of us are in it together, all of us are a family, and then refusing to pay out PTO, paid time off, except where it's law," Fitzgerald said.
Jones chimed in, saying he found it "shameful," "embarrassing," and arguing "it simply evaporates any trust Jonah is going to have" with the BuzzFeed team.
In a pair of tweets on Monday, Peretti responded to the criticism, saying that while he understood "people want a different policy," it is "very common" for companies based in New York City not to compensate employees who are let go for their accrued paid time off.
Peretti added that BuzzFeed leadership "looked at the total severance" offered to laid off staffers and said it "was fair."
Peretti also said in his Monday tweets that he had agreed to meet with employees to discuss the issue and added that he had "indicated" he was "willing to re-evaluate" his decision.
Peretti informed employees last week that BuzzFeed was cutting 15% of its workforce, or approximately 220 employees, as part of a broader effort to put the company "on a firm foundation" to deal with the "evolving economics of digital platforms."
Cuts to BuzzFeed's news division took place Friday, but the layoffs continued on Monday with cuts in other departments, including its UK bureau.