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How Better.com and its CEO left laid-off workers out to dry

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At the start of December, “Amy” had just received a raise, a bonus, and a performance review applauding her excellent work as an operations associate at Better.com. So when she became one of the 900 employees who was unceremoniously laid off on the mortgage company’s now-infamous Zoom call that same month, she figured she at least deserved a shot at making the case for why she should be rehired. As it happened, CEO Vishal Garg was encouraging stand-out employees to do just that.

“When Vishal said, ‘If you feel like this was a mistake, please reach out to me,’ I sent him an email explaining that I loved working for Better and that I was a high-performer,” she tells Fast Company. “But I never got a response.”

Amy, who has been given a pseudonym to speak without fear of retaliation, was about to have bigger problems than the CEO ghosting her by email. Her severance check arrived, and based on her calculations, which appear accurate from Fast Company‘s review of the paystubs, it was nearly $5,000 short. “My husband and I were like, ‘We’ll have Christmas, then I guess just return everything,'” she says.

She emailed HR and payroll several times asking them to walk her through their math. Four months later, she’s still waiting on their answer. In January, she sent a demand letter to Better’s World Trade Center offices by certified mail. Better hasn’t responded to that either.

In late April, though, it did mail her a free coffee tumbler.

“At this point,” she says, “I think they’re doing this on purpose.”

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg. [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]Many former Better employees across a number of departments—sales, operations, design, engineering—say they’ve come to a similar conclusion. Fast Company has spent the past month hearing dozens of their stories and reviewing hundreds of emails, texts, and posts from LinkedIn and the anonymous workplace-messaging app Blind. (Some former employees spoke to us under the condition of anonymity, in which case their pseudonym appears in quotes. Others agreed to be quoted using their full names.) These workers describe problems that they say run from getting shorted on severance payments, to not being properly enrolled in COBRA insurance, to having unemployment claims denied because states say their wages were never reported—problems that, in turn, have been exacerbated by conflicting promises from Better’s leadership and an unresponsive HR and payroll department.

Former employees have formed their own support networks on Blind and Slack, where one group now has over 900 members, to crowdsource problems typically resolved by HR. These workers, most speaking publicly here for the first time, say they’re ready to move past Better, but don’t feel like they can until their severance, health insurance, and unemployment benefits issues are resolved. Their stories underscore how a company that became infamous for its mismanagement of multiple rounds of mass layoffs continues to fall short of its obligations in their aftermath.

Reached for comment and presented with a detailed list of the issues raised by former employees, Better declined to comment on the record for this story.

The fall of the mortgage company, once seen as an industry disrupter and backed by SoftBank and Goldman Sachs, has come to serve a cautionary tale about the consequences of being a startup that pursues growth at all costs—as well as a case study on what not to do when that chase backfires. Public backlash immediately followed the viral December layoffs, which Garg defended in a subsequent Zoom meeting where he told remaining employees that their jobs would get harder but “you will not be allowed to fail twice.” “Think again,” he told any workers who doubted that Better was carefully monitoring their productivity, a reference to software installed on work devices that tracked mouse movements. He also got onto Blind where workers were growing alarmed and bitter, and assailed their ex-colleagues as “stealing from you and stealing from our customers.”

In March, Better surprised workers with another round of layoffs—over 3,000 this time. Then on April 18, it went for round three, terminating over 1,000 more employees.

Maygin Rye, a loan consultant, lost her job during the March layoffs, but is still dealing with the aftermath. She needed dozens of hours of licensing courses reimbursed, but HR sent her the same locked expense form, which required her canceled Better credentials to open, three times. A week before her old Better health........

© Fast Company

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