Brooklyn was dealt a sensational blow when popular restaurant, bar and wedding venue reBar abruptly shut its doors with only a trite email from owner Jason Stevens stating to employees: “ReBar is bankrupt and closed. Please dispose of your keys and do not enter the premises. Please forward to any staff not included.” Now out of a job, many former reBar employees are wondering where to turn.
“He left 35 people stranded, and most of us are parents,” Dina Thaverne told Gothamist. “It’s been good, but lately Jason has been dropping people like flies. No warning, no pink slips, no explanations,” Thaverne continued. The rashness of Stevens’ actions may not be fair; however, there is very little legal recourse for employees
“New York is an at-will employment state,” Brooklyn employment attorney Matthew Porges told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In New York, employees generally work at the will of the employer. An employee can be fired at any time without cause; Absent any harassment or discrimination charge against the employer, the employee is simply out of a job. “The reBar situation is difficult because the employees can be fired for any reason,” Porges confirmed. “What we have here is a group layoff.”
New York and federal law provides a safety net—unemployment insurance—for employees who find themselves without a job through no fault of their own. Employers pay a state contribution for each employee which funds unemployment insurance. Additionally, employers pay a per-employee federal tax, which assists the administrative costs of implementing the system. Typically, unemployment insurance is funded by the employer contributions via New York State Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (NYSUITF) and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA).
Allegations have been made that reBar owner Stevens had been illegally skimming profits and may have been in arrears of his tax and other financial obligations as related to reBar. Even if, however, Stevens failed to make the appropriate contributions to NYSUITF and FUTA, the employees would not be penalized for the errors of their employer. “If the employer has disappeared, as seems to be the case in reBar, there will be no one to challenge or contest any unemployment claims,” Porges noted.
There may be recourse for employees who are owed a paycheck for hours already worked. According to an unnamed Gothamist source, reBar was shuttered on payday. “Today was payday and roughly 50 employees are not getting their two-week paychecks,” the former upper management employee told the website. If an employee is fired or let go on payday, New York law requires that the employee be given his remaining paycheck by the next scheduled pay period. Employees may, if necessary, bring a claim for unpaid wages.
It is unclear if reBar employees are seeking legal action as a group or if employees will address their employment concerns individually.