Employees seeking legal action against Bitwise after furloughs

Kate Nemarich Image
Saturday, June 3, 2023
Employees seeking legal action against Bitwise after furloughs
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Hundreds of Bitwise employees and their families begin the month without a paycheck and questioning if they'll ever return to work.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hundreds of Bitwise employees and their families begin the month without a paycheck and questioning if they'll ever return to work.

Just days after bounced payments by the Fresno-based company, employees are working to take legal action.

All avenues are still being explored at this point.

First and foremost, Bitwise could have broken a law by not alerting employees and the city of furloughs 60 days in advance.

Roger Bonakdar assembled a team of lawyers to represent the 100 employees he said had already approached them.

The concerning signs for the 300 employees of Bitwise Industries came last Friday when they were told that instead of direct deposits they would instead get paper checks.

When those checks started bouncing, many employees started reaching out to employment attorneys, including Bonakdar.

"You don't bounce people's paychecks, because you're going to furlough them," said Bonakdar. "You don't switch your payroll process from automatic deposit to paper checks and enterprise of that size unless you are trying to buy time."

The company sent out an email on Memorial Day, when offices were closed, notifying them that they were furloughed effective immediately and those paper checks may not clear.

Bonakdar said the way the CEOs have handled the furloughs leads him to believe the company will soon be no more.

"They're calling it a furlough, but that is just smoke and mirrors,' said Bonadkar. "This is very clearly a mass layoff."

Bonakdar believes employees could sue for violation of California's Worker Adjustment and Retraining or WARN Act by not giving 60-day notice that a furlough was coming, but that's not all.

"There's also some labor code issues that apply here as well," said Bonakdar. "So, there are penalties like waiting period penalties. And of course, they're entitled to their damages for the absolute chaos that this has forced on to these families."

A long legal road is ahead, but Bonakdar says he and his team will level every legal claim possible, but that doesn't guarantee his clients will see any return.

"I'm not going to let 300 Fresno families be trampled in this way," said Bonakdar. "So, God willing, there's something there and if there is I'm going to find it."

Fresno City Council members are working to find immediate relief for those employees.

They're also reflecting on decisions to award Bitwise a one million dollar grant in the American Rescue Plan fund just last fall despite the company owing the city business tax payments dating back to September 2021.

"As we're entering this budget what we keep on hearing is revenues down," said Miguel Arias, Fresno City Council. "The question for me is is revenue down because the administration is not making sure that businesses pay their taxes? If that's the case then we need to look at some enforcement mechanisms for Bitwise and any other company that chooses not to pay their taxes which is their legal obligation to our city."

As Bonakdar builds his case, he is looking for more employees to come forward.

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