State to investigate HomeTown Buffet layoffs

Posted at 6:49 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 21:49:10-05

The state Labor Commissioner's office is launching an investigation into HomeTown Buffet's abrupt closure of restaurants across California, including six in San Diego County. 

RELATED: Six HomeTown Buffet restaurants in San Diego abruptly close

The announcement came after 10News began inquiring as to why HomeTown Buffet did not file a layoff notice, otherwise known as a WARN notice.

Under state law, generally, employers of more than 75 workers must give 60 days notice to workers of a mass layoff, including pay. But HomeTown Buffet did not do that.

An attorney for the restaurant argued that the laws do not apply because no individual restaurant had more than 75 workers at a single location.

"Were my client to include every janitor and other individual retained on an independent contractor basis,  the 75 person threshold at each location would still not be met as there simply are very few additional staff retained on that basis," attorney Laura Worsinger said in an email to 10News. 

Paola Laverde, a spokeswoman for the Labor Commissioner, said that's the wrong interpretation of the law.  

"The law makes reference to persons, not employees," she said in an email. "So, persons also include all independent contractors working for the company, such as janitors, who are also affected by the layoffs."

HomeTown Buffet employees came to work last week stunned. Susan Hough was laid off after 20 years working in the Clairemont restaurant's dining room. 

"They gave me no notice," she said. "I walked in Thursday morning and doors were shut, I couldn't even go in."

Hough said she is also missing 11 hours of vacation pay and was short changed on a paycheck last month. 

If HomeTown Buffet is found guilty of not filing a layoff notice, it would owe employees 60 days of backpay, medical reimbursements and a civil penalty of $500 a day.