Uber for jets accused of not paying its employees

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JetSmarter, a Florida startup that offers a subscription service for air travel on private planes, is being sued by former employees who alleges the company failed to pay thousands of hours of overtime. The lead plaintiff, Grace Lamey, worked as a shuttle experience manager, dealing with things like reservations, boarding, and handing out food and drinks.

Lamey’s lawsuit alleges that during the three years she worked for JetSmarter, she and other employees regularly worked more than 65 hours a week and sometimes as many as six or seven days a week. The lawsuit alleges that she and other employees were never paid for those hours, much less paid time and half. This failure, the lawsuit contends, is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Lamey left JetSmarter in March of this year.

In addition, in May of this year The Verge received an email from an anonymous tipster alleging that JetSmarter was unable to make payroll and had failed to deliver paychecks on time. An email forwarded from senior human resources manager Andrea Wolniewitz, independently confirmed by another employee, explained that a change in payroll would result in a three-week gap in paychecks and that future paychecks would be slightly smaller, as more would be issued each year.

The Verge subsequently spoke with seven current and former employees. All confirmed that there had been episodes where paychecks were not delivered on time. Those in sales said that there had been issues around commissions, with the company arbitrarily changing the percentage of payouts on sales or delaying the delivery of commission checks.

Several employees said they believed the payroll issues were driven by financial difficulties at JetSmarter. The company recently stopped offering subsidized helicopter transfers in New York City, a move that several employees say was driven by JetSmarter’s inability to pay the companies it contracted for these flights.

In March of this year, The Verge detailed customer complaints about ever-changing rules and benefits at JetSmarter. At the time, industry competitors had alleged that JetSmarter was an unsustainable Ponzi scheme. The costs cited by JetSmarter’s suppliers also contradicted the picture painted by JetSmarter executives.

Wolniewitz, who, according to company insiders, is serving as the de facto head of HR, has little experience in human resources. According to her LinkedIn, she worked for a year and a half as the executive assistant to Gennady Barsky, the former president of JetSmarter, who left the company earlier this year after being arrested on charges of embezzlement.

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A former employee who spoke with The Verge anonymously, said that JetSmarter’s erratic approach to payroll contrasted sharply with its lavish operations. “You would be there late working a fancy party for customers, handing out food, champagne, that sort of thing. And then you would wake up the next day to find your paycheck was late.”

Ronn Torossian, a spokesperson for JetSmarter sent the following response by email:

JetSmarter values its employees and appreciates their hard work. The company offers a top notch benefit package, cover all employee and their dependents healthcare premiums at 100%, provide a generous 401K match, stock options, and other perks.

The lawsuit was filed by a former shuttle experience manager. While her work schedule required her to work some evening and weekends, similar to other customer service professionals, she was paid for the hours that she worked.

To improve internal processes, JetSmarter recently transitioned to an industry standard payroll practices of one-week in arrears – employees are paid one week after the pay period ends (not 3). This payment schedule ensures that employees receive 2 more paychecks a year in comparison to the old system.

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