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COVID-19

Tech firm improperly blamed layoffs on COVID-19, suit says

Tricia Gorman  

Tricia Gorman  

(April 13, 2020) - A former employee of an autonomous-vehicle technology company says it used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to unlawfully lay off more than 140 California workers March 30 without the 60 days’ notice required by federal and state law.

In a proposed class-action complaint, Benjamin Siers alleges that although Velodyne Lidar Inc. cited the pandemic as the reason for terminating the workers without cause and with only one day’s notice, the company had been transferring jobs overseas since last summer and had planned to continue to do so before the COVID-19 outbreak.
 
Velodyne manufactures 3D-scanning laser technology called lidar, or light detection and ranging, for use in self-driving vehicles.
 
The suit, filed April 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asserts claims under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 2101, and California’s WARN Act, Cal. Lab. Code § 1400.
 
The federal law requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days’ notice of the intention to lay off more than 50 workers, and the state law has a similar requirement for employers with 75 or more employees.
 
In a March 17 executive order, Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended the state law’s 60-day requirement nearly two weeks after he declared an emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19.
 
Under Executive Order N-31-20, employers that lay off workers for COVID-19-related “business circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable” when notice would have been required should give as much notice as is practical, including an explanation of why 60 days’ notice was not feasible.
 
According to the complaint, the March 30 layoffs constituted over one-third of the workforce at Velodyne’s San Jose facility.
 
The written notice sent to employees the day before allegedly said the terminations were due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Siers alleges the company failed to comply with the law and the governor’s executive order and could have provided more notice because “a layoff was reasonably foreseeable” given its recent decisions to send manufacturing positions overseas.
 
His suit also says the company has violated the WARN acts by failing to pay workers their wages, commissions and bonuses and for accrued vacation time for 60 days after the terminations.
 
Velodyne also has not made pension and 401(k) contributions or provided 60 days’ worth of health benefits, the suit says.
 
Siers seeks unpaid wages and other benefits on behalf of those fired without cause or proper notice at the end of March.

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