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Van Gogh exhibit employees to be paid hundreds of hours in missed Sick & Safe time

Lighthouse Immersive said employees will see sick hours as of Dec. 30, blaming payroll software for the error. Employees estimated to have missed $11k in sick time.
Credit: Van Gogh Exhibit
A screenshot of the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit's website.

MINNEAPOLIS — For months, employees working the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Minneapolis were not accruing sick and safe hours, a mandate by Minneapolis city ordinance.

This led to an estimated $11,200 in lost accrued sick hours, according to former manager at the exhibit, Quang-Minh Tran.

Parent company Lighthouse Immersive, just hours after being contacted for this story on December 21, messaged its Minneapolis employees to say the sick and safe hours will be added in future paychecks and its working to abide by Minneapolis city ordinance. On December 31, the company told its employees they can access their sick hours with the next paycheck.

Any former employee, along with current employees, who is owed sick time from missed work can claim a check after January 7, according to Lighthouse.

“We feel bad about this, as soon as we became aware of it we tried to rectify the situation as quickly as we could, working with Paylocity,” a spokesperson with Lighthouse said.

Three employees with the company told KARE 11 their requests go back weeks, with little response from higher management until the issue was made public.

Lighthouse Immersive, however, told KARE 11 the issue dragged on due to software complications by its payroll company, Paylocity.

Paylocity told KARE 11 it’s always allowed clients to optimize payroll services to abide by city laws, saying in an email “there have been no technology issues that would impact clients accruing or displaying accrued hours on employee timesheets.”

The Minneapolis Sick & Safe time ordinance requires that employees who work in Minneapolis must accrue at least one hour of sick and safe time per 30 hours worked. None of the pay stubs, going back several months, sent to KARE 11 show any sick hours accrued.

Regardless of the blame, Lighthouse said the issue is resolved and it's working to issue retroactive hours to current employees, promising to pay former employees who lost out on sick time.

But how did an international company, with more than a hundred Minneapolis employees at one time, go several months without letting employees accrue sick time?

Emails obtained by KARE 11 show the issue was originally raised by Quang-Minh Tran, former assistant manager of operations with the Minneapolis Van Gogh exhibit, on November 14.

“To my knowledge, we are currently not in compliance with this ordinance and this must be addressed immediately, with the most important measure being retroactive issuance of Sick &

Safe time that would have accrued for all employees based on their hours worked, and that this information must be visible on paycheck stubs, per the Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance,” Minh wrote in his email to upper management. “Please see to it that this is implemented ASAP at the company level and in Paylocity, unless the company would like to deal with labor/wage theft violations reported to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.”

Tran said he reported it to HR, but no public action was taken until after he quit on December 17, 2021.

“It’s incredibly disappointing, the expectation is that the company itself should have done the due diligence necessary to prevent this situation from getting to this point to begin with… they did not do that due diligence,” Tran said.

Tran oversaw dozens of employees during his months at Lighthouse Immersive, estimating around 700 Sick & Safe hours went untracked by Lighthouse Immersive or its payroll software.

Tran said the lowest hourly rate employees at the Van Gogh exhibit were paid $16 per hour. This means that at least $11,200 worth of sick time wasn’t accessible to employees, he said.

“Whenever we were sick they just told us to stay home, there was never an option of paid sick leave, it was just never on the table,” said Alyssa Castillo, a part-time employee at the Minneapolis Van Gogh exhibit.

A spokesperson from Lighthouse told KARE 11 it was first notified of the issue around mid-November and said it alerted Paylocity.

“(Paylocity is) updating their system because they didn't have the right (system) to put these numbers on the paystubs,” the spokesperson said over the phone. “They're rectifying the situation, and of course, if anyone is deserving of any pay they did not receive of course will get that pay.”

What were the issues that blocked employees from their sick pay?

In its email to Minneapolis employees on Dec. 31, Lighthouse said it was a failure on Paylocity.

“In this instance, they failed to include the Minneapolis Safe & Sick Time Ordinance… and, we failed to double-check their work,” the statement said.

Paylocity told KARE 11 it’s never had an instance where it couldn’t fulfill a city pay ordinance and implement it into its software.

“Our platform enables companies to set up accrual plans (including the Minneapolis Sick & Safe policy) to meet their local and state regulations,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Paylocity went on to say it offered Minneapolis clients ability to accrue Sick & Safe time since July 31, 2017, but clients have to request it themselves, as “many clients have more generous PTO/Sick policies than local mandates.”

Lighthouse Immersive said it was a bug in Paylocity’s software that wasn’t allowing the sick hours to show up.

“They have fixed the bug in their system so those hours are accrued and visible to everyone,” the spokesperson from Lighthouse Immersive said.

Lighthouse wouldn’t expand on the specific issue that took several weeks to fix.

“I can’t really answer that it’s just that (Paylocity) had rectified the situation,” the Lighthouse spokesperson said.

Paylocity also told KARE 11 it can’t discuss specific communications it had with Lighthouse.

“It’s definitely a transparency thing,”... how employees will get their hours back

Part-timer Castillo told KARE 11 Safe & Sick time in Minneapolis wasn’t known to her or her coworkers until Tran noticed the city law.

When talking to Lighthouse, Castillo said she was told it was an issue they were working with, but she said nothing changed until Minh took the issue to Reddit.

“I believe that not only was the issue dragged on way later than it should have been but I believe the issue wasn’t resolved until it was brought to the public eye,” Castillo said.

Tran said he took the issue to Reddit because the situation wasn’t being rectified.

“Ultimately my only hope in doing this is to pressure the company into doing the right thing and adhering with the local ordinance and to simply just provide the sick and safe time that its workers rightfully deserve,” Tran told KARE 11. This interview took place before Lighthouse’s company-wide email on Dec. 31.

After a few months, it seems Tran is getting his wish.

Katie Rein, a former manager who left the company at the beginning of January, said stress on employees would have been avoided if more was communicated.

“It’s definitely a transparency thing, they weren’t transparent about that process… people were asking,” Rein said.

Leanne Fuith, an associate professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told KARE 11 that city ordinances are often missed by international companies.

“I would say it’s not surprising for… an employer who is out of state that it may not be something they are familiar with,” Fuith said, “They certainly need to get familiar with it.”

“Broadly speaking, employers have to be concerned about compensating for the wages that were not appropriately compensated as well as any penalties that might be prescribed by the state for a particular violations,” Fuith said when asked about any penalties that come with avoiding Sick & Safe time in Minneapolis.

Lighthouse Immersive’s communication sent to employees on December 31 gives current employees two options, to take a payout on past sick leave they may have accrued, or have their Sick & Safe time bank filled with retroactive hours they may have earned.

They apologized for not having Sick & Safe time implemented sooner, and said it will begin contacting former employees about retroactive sick pay.

“It was, and is, always our intention to follow the rules in each city and state where we operate,” Corey Ross, president of Lighthouse Immersive, said in the staff email.

Now, employees past and current await retroactive hours and pay to come by Friday, January 7.

Rein said it couldn’t come sooner, with a few recent COVID exposures reported to her on-site before her resignation in early January.

“This sick time is something they can all be using right now… Sick pay is such a huge issue,” Rein said.

WATCH: Mpls. and St. Paul sick leave ordinances take effect July 1:

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