Boise call-center workers thought jobs were permanent, lawyer says

February 25, 2014 

The coming layoffs of 1,600 people at a Boise call center came as a surprise to a group of nine employees suing the center's owner over alleged violations of overtime laws.

Maximus Inc. says it will lay off most of its Boise workers two months from now because their work — taking calls from customers around the country seeking insurance under the Affordable Care Act — will wind down after the March 31 enrollment deadline. As part of a federal customer-service contract, the Virginia company set up the call center last year in a vacant building on the Hewlett-Packard campus in Boise on West Chinden Boulevard.

The nine employees' attorneys, Jeremiah Hudson and Howard Belodoff, say workers believed their positions were permanent, not seasonal.

“Our clients were shocked to find out that their positions at Maximus were not permanent positions," Hudson told the Associated Press in an email. "They were led to believe that they were being recruited for permanent positions at Maximus, and accordingly, many of them left behind secure employment elsewhere.”

The workers sued Maximus in Boise’s U.S. District Court last month, contending they were forced to work unpaid overtime. Maximus has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

When the Idaho Department of Labor announced a series of job fairs last summer to recruit employees for the call center, it described the positions in a news release as “up to 1,800 permanent and seasonal customer service representatives and operation support staff for a major call center.”

“The employees we spoke to were never told they would be seasonal when they were offered their positions,” Belodoff wrote.

According to the letter to Boise employees from Maximus vice president Helene Fisher, regular employees who weren’t hired in a limited capacity will be eligible for up to two weeks’ severance pay, as long as they keep working until their layoff date. The company says some employees may be hired back this fall, in preparation for the next enrollment period.

The layoffs were a surprise to the Idaho Department of Labor, which has coordinated several job fairs for Maximus since last summer.

"The first the department heard about layoffs was last Friday," spokesman Bob Fick told the Idaho Statesman in an email. "(We) didn’t get any confirmation that there would be layoffs until the letter on Monday."

Zach Kyle: 377-6464, Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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