BuzzFeed employees demand it pay out earned PTO to all laid-off US staffers

A group of current and former BuzzFeed employees are asking the company to pay out paid time off to all recently laid-off staff. In response, Lenke Taylor, BuzzFeed’s human resources lead, said it wants to meet with staff and is “open to re-evaluating” its decision on PTO.

In an open letter to Taylor, BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti and editor in chief Ben Smith, and signed by more than 400 employees so far, the BuzzFeed News Staff Council wrote “BuzzFeed is refusing to pay out earned, accrued, and vested paid time off for almost all U.S. employees who have been laid off.” The BuzzFeed News Council, which describes itself as “a group of employees appointed to open up the lines of communication between News employees and company management,” added that BuzzFeed is only paying out PTO to employees in California, where it is required by law.

BuzzFeed announced last week that it is laying off 250 employees, or 15 percent of its workforce. In an employee memo, Peretti said the lay offs were done to help BuzzFeed sustain growth without seeking additional rounds of funding. The company has raised almost $500 million over the past decade, including a $200 million flat round in 2016.

“This is paid time that employees accrued by choosing not to take vacation days, and instead do their work at BuzzFeed,” the letter read. “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.”

“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 continued. “It is unconscionable that BuzzFeed could justify doing so for some employees and not others in order to serve the company’s bottom line.”

BuzzFeed’s laid-off employees received a severance of a minimum 10 weeks pay, and benefits through April. Taylor’s response to the petition’s organizers said the company wants to meet with staff to discuss the issue:

“We would like to have a dialogue with the news staff council and staff from other departments on PTO payout. 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 we operate,” she wrote.

Taylor added that the company will follow up with employees by the end of Monday to schedule a meeting.