B&H accused of discrimination by workers on leave

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Some employees on leave from B&H Photo Video fear they recently lost their jobs for good – and say it’s because they reported unsafe working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak.After complaining about the company’s handling of the pandemic in March – including indoor prayer services for its ultra-religious Jewish workers – some workers spotted what posts looked like for their jobs online. It is a position they would not be in, they suspect, if they were part of the inner circle of society, made up of Hasidic Jewish employees, who they say receive special treatment.

“They definitely used COVID as a cover to wipe out some of us,” said Dan Wagner, a nearly six-year veteran of the famous New York-based tech retailer known for its conveyor belt system hauling goods around. of its three floors. megastore on West 34th Street and Ninth Avenue.

Wagner, a professional photographer who worked as a product description writer for B&H, says he believes he was not asked to return to work after making a big fuss in March about daily prayer services , which took place in the company’s dining rooms.

“I told HR people shouldn’t be getting together,” Wagner said, adding that B&H later announced in a newsletter that two workers who attended prayers had died from the virus in late March.

Wagner also repeatedly pressed B&H for information after learning that a colleague on another floor had contracted the virus, he said. “I believe they hit back at me for just asking if I was in close contact with someone with COVID.”

William Cannon, also a B&H content writer, says he thinks he’s not brought back because he asked for permission to work from home in March. ” I said [HR] that I don’t feel safe in the office, leaving in crowded elevators and working so close to others, ”Cannon said.

Cannon, who is diabetic, was also baffled by the prayer services as they took place in the same rooms where he kept his insulin, which must be refrigerated. “There were 60 people crammed in there and I would have to step over them to get to the fridge,” he says. “It was uncomfortable for me.”

B&H told Cannon to use his paid time off until he came up with a work-from-home plan, which he did about a week later. “B&H has been very slow to take the pandemic seriously,” he said. “I took PTO all my days because they didn’t have a plan.”

Cannon and Wagner say they were fired along with around 400 other workers – around 20% of B&H staff – on April 27. The company informed workers via email that they would be paid for 2.5 days and receive health benefits until May 31.

Cannon has been unable to afford his insulins since June and has been forced to share the insulin with his diabetic uncle, with whom he lives.

Then in August, after months of no communication from the company, Cannon saw an Indeed.com post for a consumer mobile technology writer for B&H, which he did for the company. The post also called for gambling expertise, which Cannon says his manager knows he has.

“I took this as a way to get rid of people they didn’t want,” he said of the job posting. “It was so suddenly without follow-up. It seemed like a way to fire people without telling them they were being laid off.

Wagner, meanwhile, saw two ads for his work as a photo editor on the company’s website, the latest on October 15.

B&H didn’t tell the men what its plans were and they didn’t ask, but the megastore reopened on July 1.

After the holidays ended, Wagner emailed his B&H managers asking what percentage of laid-off employees were Hasidic, which the company declined to say. It was then that Wagner, who is Jewish but not Hasidic, says he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, alleging B&H discriminates against employees. non-Hasidic.

Cannon, who is African-American, said he is also considering filing a discrimination complaint against B&H.

Wagner declined to share a copy of his complaint with The Post, but shared emails with the agency saying he had filed one.

B&H, which Blimie and Herman Schreiber opened in 1973, declined to comment on Wagner’s job postings or discrimination complaint except to say that he “welcomes the EEOC’s findings.”

“B&H was one of the last retailers to put employees on leave,” the company’s chief marketing officer, Jeff Gerstel, told the Post in a statement.

“We are proud to bring employees back to work on leave every week as we go through this difficult time. We cannot respond to individual employee issues. ”

Wagner says B&H Hasidic Jewish staff enjoy special benefits, including what he thinks are company-sponsored shuttles to help them get to and from work.

The shuttles, which cost employees $ 2.75 each way, are not available to non-Hasidic employees, he said.

B&H declined to comment on its role in providing the buses, but a person close to the company noted that the retailer was named New York’s 14th Best Employer for 2020 by Forbes in August.

The popular retailer has been sued twice by the federal government for discriminatory practices, most recently in 2016 when the Department of Labor accused it of only hiring Hispanic men for entry-level positions in its former Brooklyn Navy warehouse and then subject them to harassment and unsanitary conditions, including inoperative bathrooms separate from those used by non-Hispanic workers at the facility. The lawsuit also accused the company of not hiring women, black and Asian workers at the Brooklyn facility, which has since moved to New Jersey.

The family business “categorically denied” the 2016 allegations, but paid $ 3.22 million to settle the case and “avoid the distraction of litigation,” he said at the time.

Legal experts like Carolyn Richmond say they have been warning employers since April to take precautions not to discriminate when rehiring workers on leave.

“The question is why does the employer not bring back an employee who was fired simply because of COVID restrictions and not job performance,” said Richmond, president of the hospitality practice group at Fox Rothschild LLP. “It is certainly suspect to replace these workers with new recruits.”

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