Ex-BuzzFeed workers will get paid for unused vacation days

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has relented and will pay laid-off staffers for their accrued paid time off, he told staff in a companywide e-mail Monday afternoon.

Peretti took action after he and other top BuzzFeed executives were blasted for refusing to pay recently laid-off workers for their unused vacation time — in a letter from employees that called the move “unconscionable.”

“This is paid time that employees accrued by choosing not to take vacation days, and instead work at BuzzFeed,” according to the scathing letter signed by a group calling itself the BuzzFeed News Staff Council as well as “current and laid-off staffers from across BuzzFeed.”

The letter, addressed to Peretti, Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith and HR boss Lenke Taylor, claimed the news outlet paid only “earned, accrued, and vested paid time off” to its California workers because it was required to do so by state law.

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

“Every aspect of the way that these layoffs have been handled so far — from communications 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,” the note also said.

BuzzFeed’s bloodletting, amounting to 15 percent of the workforce, commenced Friday and is continuing.

Peretti’s e-mail said that BuzzFeed would add changes to its separation agreement to account for PTO time for all US-based staffers affected by the layoffs.

The company, which was said to have 2018 revenue of $300 million, had scored about $500 million in investments since its founding above a Chinatown shop in Manhattan 11 years ago and has since grown to nearly 1,500 employees. But it was still losing money last year, even as revenue grew.

Peretti said the downsizing was necessary to bring its head count in line with revenue. And rumors continue to circulate that Peretti is looking to merge his company with other digital publishers — a task complicated by the many private equity and media investors who ponied up money over the years and are now part owners.

The company, which rose to prominence by posting pet videos and vacuous pop culture quizzes that spread virally, has become the subject of a spoof quiz about itself by a recently laid-off employee.

The quiz was posted on a site called BuzzFeed Community on Monday under the byline Jonathan Sweeten, but it was not actually associated with media company.

Among the questions: “How Long Have You Worked at BuzzFeed?” and the choices are less than 2; 2-3; 3-4. The answer supplied on the quiz: “I remember when our holiday bonus was a drawing of a cat and the CEO presented it as an investment.”

Another quiz question asks: “Wasn’t our holiday party lit?” Multiple choice answers are: “AF!”; “Loved it!”; and “I got sooooo drunk.” Also among the answers: “When you were spending that money on appetizers and an open bar, did you know that you were paying for celebration at the expense of people’s livelihoods?”

In a Slack memo to employees on Friday, Peretti said of the rolling layoffs: “I know this is resulting in additional anxiety and stress, we are trying to mitigate as much as possible. It really sucks and I’m sorry.”

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