back to article BlackBerry sued by hundreds of staffers 'fooled' into quitting

Long-ago phone-builder BlackBerry has been sued by hundreds of employees who say they were tricked into quitting their jobs. Canadian law firm Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP says it is representing a class-action lawsuit of more than 300 people who were told by BlackBerry their jobs were being transferred to Ford Canada, a …

Legality

I'm pretty sure the lawyers at BlackBerry will make sure what what was on the papers was legal. How the papers were presented, and how much employees were allowed to scrutinise them may not be so legal.

Either way, that does not protect BlackBerry from being branded a bunch of sneaky bastard cockweasels.

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Re: Legality

Having been migrated into a joint venture there were a few papers to sign, mostly dealing with taxes and insurance. We were transferred with all our seniority to the JV automatically. What does matter is what Canadian law says about jvs and mergers.

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Boffin

@Dave Austin ... Re: Legality

Without seeing the actual contracts, or understanding the specifics of Canadian Labor Laws, its a tough call.

Your point about how the papers were presented is meaningless and noise. A company hands you a legal document to sign, you had better read it. If you said you wanted to take the document and run it past a lawyer and they said no, then they would have issues. However that's not what is being alleged.

Where Blackberry may be on legal thin ice is that they didn't compensate their staff properly, and again it depends on the labor laws. Even questions about duress may be difficult to prove.

But there are a lot of unanswered questions...

What exactly is the transaction between Blackberry and Ford Canada? Did they outsource to FC? Did they sell the line of business?

What did the employees lose? Pensions?

Unused but accrued Vacation Days?

Seniority and benefits due to length of service?

Did Blackberry follow the required labor law announcements and notifications? (e.g. if they were terminating a number of employees did they notify the correct government officials of the resource action?)

And that's the thing.

If Blackberry made the official announcement of a resource action and said that they were shutting down a division and were selling off the support contract to FC, essentially you were losing your job and starting over at FC. (no accrued seniority or benefits since you're a new employee) Then they should have paid out accrued benefits. If you didn't sign the document, you didn't have a job at FC so you would have been terminated and gotten those accrued benefits.

So you have to know the agreement between BB and FC along with what was said in the document in order to know what will happen in court.

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Boffin

@Yank Lurker Re: Legality

This wasn't a merger and it may not have been a sale of a Line of Business.

We need to know the agreement between BB (Blackberry) and FC (Ford Canada).

I agree that during an M&A, there are retention packages for critical staff, and a transfer of seniority to a point. They may say that your 10 years at company X gives you 4 weeks of vacation and they will honor it, but you won't see a bump in benefits because you are starting over in terms of the company's benefit program.

I've seen it where companies do things like this. Its either sign the paper and start with the new company or you're terminated. And if you're terminated, while you get your package, you will be barred from working at the new company for a period of time. (Or permanently) Its legal, if done properly.

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Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

"They may say that your 10 years at company X gives you 4 weeks of vacation"

If it takes 10 years to reach a 4 week annual leave entitlement, what do you get as a new starter? Here in the UK (and across the EU IIRC), 20 days/4 weeks is the bare minimum of leave entitlement. Plus public holidays on top, of course.

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@John Brown ... Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

I was just tossing out some numbers. YMMV. Some companies don't offer a lot of vacation and even if you have it, you may not get to take it. From my experience... if you take off more than 2 or 3 days, you end up spending too much time playing catch up, or when you're gone there was a SHTF moment.

Some companies start with 7 paid national holidays and 2 weeks paid vacation. Then after a couple of years +1 year, and then after a couple more years +1 again. Of course some companies start with 3 weeks these days.

This is probably the only example of a seniority benefits I could think of. Other than time towards vesting... which goes away in any case.

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Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

Many places in the US start at 2 weeks plus 5-10 holidays. Typically it seems they add a week every five years up to a max of about 5-6 weeks but that means you've been there twenty or more years and if you've not reached VP level with the golden parachute they're often looking to get rid of you for someone with fresh ideas younger cheaper so they cap your vacation and shift you to the worst assignment available hoping you'll finally quit "retire".

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Unhappy

Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

An American web designer friend only had 2 weeks, but even then he was pressured to not take it. One time, he asked for a week off for a holiday. His boss couldn't say no, but casually mentioned how [colleague at similar level] hadn't taken a single day off in the year, adding how the market is tough at the moment, and they may have to reduce development staff.

Fortunately, he's since left there (by his own accord)

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Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

Wow! Thanks for the replies guys. It all sounds a bit Dickensian workhouse-like to me. I'm sure it's ok for those workaholics who are skilled enough to be able to demand favourable contract terms, but for the average workers it seems as if one is supposed to be grateful that the company gives you time off to attend the company picnic. Somehow I can't see President Trump rushing in to improve labour laws any time soon either.

(Yes, that was a bit tongue in cheek, but not entirely)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Legality

I once worked for a startup that tried this trick when the startup was being acquired. Some of us didn't fall for it, and the trick displeased the aquiring company because it meant they had a pile of pissed off employees. They later gave everyone back their seniority, because, as the aquiring CEO said, taking it away made no sense. While it was legal, it was a good indicator that other things were wrong with the startup. I think I heard several years later that the founder, who was the sleazebag behind these kinds of tricks, ended up in jail on unrelated fraud charges.

I'd suggest regulators take a close look at Blackberry and its executives.

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Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

Here in the UK (and across the EU IIRC), 20 days/4 weeks is the bare minimum of leave entitlement. Plus public holidays on top, of course.

It's a common misconception that public holidays ("bank holidays") are a statutory entitlement. In the UK, Minimum entitlement is 5.6 weeks (e.g. 28 days for a 5-day-a-week worker) and public holidays can be counted towards the 28. In other words, your employer could shut down on the eight bank holidays in 2017 and only give you 20 days leave in addition.

Of course I'd imagine that most of us here end up working, or at least on-call, on many bank holidays. So long as you get your 5.6 weeks in total through the year, there's no Time Off In Lieu owed for working a bank holiday, and there's no legal requirement to compensate you for bank holiday (or weekend) working with a higher hourly rate or a flat-rate BH payment.

That said, many employers do do such things.

M.

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Re: @two-weeks Legality

friends of mine worked in the US High Energy Physics sector/DoE, and their immediate line boss preferred/expected them to A) regularly work on Saturday - and B) choose to spend their 2-week vacation in the office. They are still advertising for a few people here https://jobs-us.technomedia.com/fermilab/

Here in the EU, working a basic 40-hrs/week, I do look forward to weekends off at least.

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Re: @two-weeks Legality

Here in Canada we have a special exemption to all the employment acts if you work with a computer.

No overtime, no limits to working hours, no statutory holidays, no vacation - apparently it is necessary to allow highly innovative Canadian companies to compete internationally (presumably with N Korean slave labor)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

Contract?

What are the contracts of which you speak. The majority of US states are "at will employment" states, which means that the company needs zero grounds to sack you and you get her notice or compensation. I have personally seen people with ten plus years of tenure in a job get made redundant with two weeks salary paid as redundancy.

Upside is that you make more money on average, but the downside of working here are large too.

I'd also correct the misinformation that people get an extra week's holiday after 5 years - I have never, ever seen that. The tech companies I have worked for give 3 weeks holiday plus 8-10 statutory holidays, but it's very rare to see someone outside the public sector get more. My present company gives 15 days holiday, but those are also sick days (PTO in HR speak), so you have to always save some in case of sickness late in the year. You are also not allowed to carry them over year to year and only accrue at 1.25 day per month.

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Boffin

@Jamie Jones ... Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

Absolutely, there are a lot of shitty managers out there.

As my own boss, I usually end up taking a real, proper, vacation once every 3 years or so. When I'm not billing, I'm at home working on other things until the next gig. I do get time off, but when you're on the road more than 40 weeks during the year... you tend to want to stay home in your own bed when it comes to down time. (I actually have a policy on paper that say I get 8 weeks minimum of paid vacation, if only when I decide to take a real job one day.) ;-)

The thing about vacations... and this varies by state... you either have a take it or lose it policy, where if you don't take it... its gone. Or a limited amount of accruals. Or you can only take so many days at a time. Its definitely a YMMV.

If I were your friend, I'd have taken Fridays off for a couple of months just to get some down time.

This is why you need to downplay the offer of vacation or stock options. They may be nice to have, but they may end up being worthless.

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Re: @Yank Lurker Legality

Well, 35 or so years ago I worked for a company that gave (in the US) 2 weeks vacation time to new employees, and 3 weeks after 5 years, and more later. Plus a real pension plan.

But the company picnic (it wasn't proverbial then; they rented out an amusement park) was among the things discontinued in the early 1990s as the company's fortunes turned, and the company itself went down the tubes not long thereafter. You've heard of them but I don't have to name names, as the pattern was common. What passed for a job today isn't what it was back then.

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Holmes

Read it...

... *BEFORE* you sign it!

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Re: Read it...

I'd need to know How the papers were presented, and how much employees were allowed to scrutinise them before they signed and what was on offer if they didn't sign before I could pass judgement on the deal.

I don't think any of us can understand why they signed such a letter without knowing the circumstances in which they signed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Read it...

... *BEFORE* you sign it!

That depends a bit on how much time staff were given for evaluation and what legal support was offered at the time. If it was a "oh, by the way, sign this before you leave" situation they will have a problem, if staff had a few days to evaluate I suspect they won't have much of a leg to stand on now.

A former colleague of mine was once told to sign something or he was not allowed to leave the meeting room. One calm phone call later, the HR managed involved was led out of the building in handcuffs for wrongful imprisonment and the company hastily agreed to rather generous terms to prevent being *very* publicly sued :).

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Re: HR managed involved was led out of the building in handcuffs

I hope it's true.

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Re: HR managed involved was led out of the building in handcuffs

Far more likely, it's bollocks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HR managed involved was led out of the building in handcuffs

I'm willing to believe it as I worked at a Fry's when an employee wanted to leave 30 minutes after closing and they locked the doors. Said employee was told the doors were only to be unlocked when every was to leave. he called the police and then was able to leave.

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Re: HR managed involved was led out of the building in handcuffs

It is bollocks.

If the HR Manager says you can't leave the room until you've signed something, you just stand up and leave the room. What are they going to do? Stamp their feet and grind their teeth?

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Anonymous Coward

Intelligence Test

Well, now their employer knows who the stupid ones are.

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Re: Intelligence Test

Intelligence Test

Clearly you don't know how big companies operate and treat their staff. In these sorts of scenarios, employees are pressured into signing, they're told what the documents mean, and there's an implicit threat that you're out of a job if you don't. And even if they read the document, I'll wager that it doesn't say "fuck you, unvalued employee, you'll lose all your benefits". The consequences will be deliberately and intentionally unsaid.

I hope Blackberry have their sad, fat arse sued off them. Whether there;s a brass farthing in the coffers to pay any damages is another point (although that obligation may be passable to Ford).

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@ledswinger ... Re: Intelligence Test

Intelligence Test?

Lets be clear, there is no implicit threat.

Here are the facts. You sign this document you're guaranteed a job with the same salary that you currently have, performing the same work... for a period of time.

If you don't sign, you will be terminated because the company is shutting down that LoB.

If you don't sign, they give you your payout package. (By law).

However, you're now on your own to find a new job and more than likely, you will be barred from being hired in to the new company for a period of time.

The period of time could be 6 months to a year. It will depend on the country's laws.

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Re: @ledswinger ... Intelligence Test

In my state, California, Non-Competes are getting a rather brutal murder. Especially in the technology sector.

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Re: @ledswinger ... Intelligence Test

In California non compete clause are not valid.

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Re: @ledswinger ... Intelligence Test

>In California non compete clause are not valid.

And $Bn companies secretly agreeing among themselves not to hire anyone from another $Bn company is also illegal - did that stop them ?

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I hope Blackberry LOSES the class action and this Nokia Lawsuit.

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Blackberry's already lost. The article documents both why they deserve to lose and their descent into patent trolling as a way to stay afloat.

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To be fair to BB it's less a descent and more a return, as noted below for a long time on El Reg they were known as Lawsuits In Motion rather than Research In Motion (RIM) for their agressive assertion of some of their patents. Keyboards and some blatantly prior art around pager functionality springs to mind.

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TRT
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Prior art

All of it. Hope they burn in patent hell.

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Re: Prior art

Indeed, and they're taking on NOKIA of all the companies they could have trolled. NOKIA probably has more mobile coms patents than any other company, almost certainly including for the ones BB is trying to troll.

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USPTO

More patents that should not have been approved.

RIM/Blackberry never invented any of those.

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Transition from Maker to Troll

I guess it was almost inevitable that when Blackberry stopped actually making handsets, they would be able to take all those defensive patents and make some money of them. Nokia seems an odd choice of target to go after, though, as they also don't make handsets any more.

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Re: Transition from Maker to Troll

"it's not as if the EU doesn't have a huge number of regulations and staff to see they are complied with."

Odd: Because Nokia has real patents. They actually invented stuff.

Not odd: Because Nokia has very deep pockets.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Transition from Maker to Troll

"they also don't make handsets any more."

Yes they do...

https://www.nokia.com/en_int/phones

:)

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Re: Transition from Maker to Troll

The products they infringe the patents are not handsets but infrastructure products. Good luck to them, Nokia has to be one of the most diligent companies I know where it concerns the use of patents and the licensing as well.

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It's hard to pass judgement on why they signed

a contract without scrutinizing it. I have worked for companies larger than BB, even when they were at their prime. Have signed numerous employment, security and other related contracts. No pressure to sign anything on the spot.

This is pure speculation - the last remaining employees in the corpse of a company so desperate to keep their jobs they'd sign anything, which they did.

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so desperate to keep their jobs they'd sign anything, which they did.

I think you're probably right. Maybe it's a culture thing, but I don't recall ever signing any employment agreement like those describer without taking them home and reviewing them.

Then again, I've never been in a position of being pressured to sign an agreement wanting to keep a job that badly.

Guess I better downgrade my harsh judgement of the involved employees - don't really understand the mind set but never been in the situation.

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Anonymous Coward

And what about Ford?

Ford must have known this as they are hiring start-from-zero employees. How many will really move now? This will do wonders for morale and does not bode well for their joint venture (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-blackberry-ford-motor-idUSKBN12V2C0)? This stuff is not like pumping out Android apps -- you actually have to know what you are doing.

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Anonymous Coward

Article is not correct

The actual suit (http://nelligan.ca/class-actions/BlackBerry/) alleges: BlackBerry arranged to transfer over 300 employees across Canada to a business partner. Only after employees accepted employment with the business partner, BlackBerry informed the employees that they had resigned their employment."

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@AC Re: Article is not correct

Something doesn't smell right.

The lawyers are alleging the following:"BlackBerry arranged to transfer over 300 employees across Canada to a business partner. Only after employees accepted employment with the business partner, BlackBerry informed the employees that they had resigned their employment. Blackberry provided resignation letters for the employees to sign and dictated their last date of employment. Blackberry stated that the transfer is not a sale of business, meaning the employees will lose all of their years of service."

Blackberry could have been upfront with the employees and they didn't realize what was happening.

Again they could have said no, been fired and then gotten their benefits.

The lawyer is alleging a wrong doing and the burden of proof is on then to show that BB sidestepped the law.

Its going to be an interesting case.

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Windows

Who remembers

Lawsuits In Motion as a stand in for RIM?

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Typing this on my Q10. If BB did rip off their employees in the way described I hope the courts put the boot in. No business large or small should be allowed to do something like this.

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FAIL

N'exit means N'exit

More fool them if they didn't read what they were signing. It's not like they were going to get a £350M pay rise.

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Re: N'exit means N'exit

They did read it, it said something like "your employment is being transferred from RIM Holdings Incorporated PLC to RIM Incorporated Holdings PLC" - this is the sort of stuff you get sent at least once a month when one of these giant companies is restructuring.

It doesn't say - "and we are taking away all you benefits Mwaa Mwaa...." in the small print. You need a lawyer to say that they could, but the lawyer is always going to say that they COULD do something bad even if it is just a form to sign to say you are getting a new door card.

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They must be very desperate...

...because that's normally like suing IBM for patent infringement. Nokia probably has lots of patents Blackberry infringes... unless in the recent acquisition by Microsoft, Microsoft got all the patents. That's actually a likely thing as they threw away everything else.

Anyhow it's sad to see a company like Blackberry committing suicide like that. In business terms it would be an ideal candidate for a takeover. Axe all the upper management and replace it with sane people and you'll have a profitable business.

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Anonymous Coward

Why the fuss over BB lawsuits?

Compared to the big boys of lawsuits (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone_patent_wars or https://www.jasondavies.com/mobile-lawsuits/), they hardly even rank. The smartphone world is full of IPR lawsuits, commentards; get used to it.

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