This is a developing story. We will continue to update as further information is obtained.
It came as a shock to workers who are reeling from months of coronavirus-caused shutdowns and say employment at more than one casino is common. Now, they are left dealing with the swift axing and wondering what happens to accrued paid time off.
A few now-former Harrah’s Casino employees reached out to PlayPennsylvania to tell their story. Sources chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution and to not compromise any current or future employment.
In PA, workers are considered “at will” employees unless they have an employment contract or statutory right that provides otherwise. Harrah’s may have been within their rights to terminate the employees under PA labor laws and guidelines about “Engaging in a competing business” under the Caesars’ employee handbook.
Multiple requests for comment from Harrah’s Philadelphia went unanswered.
Employees fired from Harrah’s Philadelphia
Many table games dealers in the Southeastern PA region, like any niche sector, know each other and talk outside of work. A source PlayPennsylvania spoke with over the phone during the weekend is a career table games dealer familiar with the Pennsylvania gambling scene and especially in tune with the goings-on at the casinos in and around Philadelphia (Rivers Philadelphia, Harrah’s, Valley Forge, and Parx).
He says the firings started on Friday, Jan. 15 at Harrah’s. He estimates about 12-20 employees ranging from table games dealers to supervisors were terminated.
“It is very common for dealers to work at more than one casino. A considerable number are gravitating to Live! for employment,” he says. “Harrah’s knew about it. All the casinos in the area are in a loop with each other.”
Orientation days for new dealers at Live! Casino consist of training and learning Live!’s procedures. Live! Philadelphia, the first casino to open in Philadelphia since 2010, has conducted a big recruiting push via digital and print media to fill about 2,000 permanent jobs. Last week, Live! started invitation-only preview days.
The source mentioned a Harrah’s employee who sent an email a few weeks ago informing management that she was taking a second job at Live! in addition to her job at Harrah’s. The employee never received a reply to the email and was fired over the weekend for attending Live!’s orientation.
“It’s messed up,” he told PlayPA. “A lot of the people who were fired accrued a lot of PTO and because they were fired they aren’t eligible to collect the money they earned. A lot of them are trying to work a second job. With COVID shutdowns, money is tight. Some were there for a long time. They have families and were fired without hesitation during a pandemic.”
Point system for casino employees
Most casinos, including Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia, use a point attendance policy. It’s intended to set and establish attendance standards which all employees are expected to meet.
PlayPennsylvania obtained a copy of Caesars team member handbook through a source. (Caesars is Harrah’s parent company.)
It states in part:
Attendance Administration: The attendance policy is based on occurrences. An occurrence is any absence regardless of cause (except those under exceptions i.e. jury duty, approved family medical leave, on the job injury).
- 1 point: Absence for a scheduled shift or training class
- 1/2 point: Tardy for a scheduled shift
- 1/2 point: Early out (employee requesting to leave early)
- 6 points: No call no show
- 2 points: Absence on holidays
- 2 points: Pattern absence
Warning levels and discipline correspond to the total points an employee has at any given time during a rolling period of 12 months. When/if an employee reaches 12 points, they are discharged.
The procedure allows for the occasional illness or unexpected event that prevents an employee from arriving at work on time, but provides for progressive disciplinary action when an employee demonstrates that they can not dependably and consistently report to work when scheduled.
The point system, as described to PlayPennsylvania and on employee reviews of casinos found on job pages like Glassdoor, is despised by most.
“Horrible,” “toxic,” “overly punitive” were some of the printable words used to describe it.
Terminations happened over the weekend
Another source contacted PlayPennsylvania via email. He is a table games dealer who said the chunk of firings occurred from Friday through Sunday and estimates about 20 got the ax.
He was fired over the phone. When he asked for the reason for dismissal he was told it was for calling out of work, and attending an orientation at a competitor company.
According to the source, he said he did not call out to attend the orientation. However, the discussion shifted to whether he attended any orientation with the competitor.
He was puzzled about this line of questioning because he did not recall a non-compete in the terms of employment.
“There are plenty of employees who work for multiple companies,” he told PlayPA. “I was told my termination was on the basis of me attending the orientation.”
“After being a model employee for over a decade I was fired for no reason. During a pandemic.”
Another email and correspondence came from a long-time employee who was fired over the weekend.
It came as a surprise since he was not on any final warnings and it was explained that the points can be used how the employees please.
He got a job at Live! to supplement his income and said that after he called out of work recently, he was asked why.
“The points are ours to use for whatever reason. I’ve been here a long time and they have never once asked me why I called out before.”
After returning to work, he was then fired for calling out to train at a competitor’s casino.
“I explained how because of the pandemic my income had been lower than last year and I was simply adding a second job to supplement my income. I would be working a different shift and would still keep my job and did not want to leave. They said that was not allowed and fired me. They would not let me sell my PTO and took over 130 hours of it. Now I don’t know what to do because I was counting on that money. After being a model employee for over a decade I was fired for no reason. During a pandemic.”
The source said he did not know of a “no moonlighting” clause. He also said Harrah’s never warned them before about other employment.
“I even asked why they didn’t warn me and they said people would try and circumvent it.”
Employment in PA is “at will”
A representative from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said a gaming employee’s license is portable and belongs to the person not the casino property. It is the PGCB’s policy not to comment on any personnel decisions made by casinos.
In Pennsylvania and a number of other states, workers are considered “at will” employees unless an employment contract dictates otherwise.
According to the PA Dept. of Labor:
An employer may terminate the services of an “at will” employee, with or without cause, at any time — as long as an employee is not let go for an unlawful purpose, such as age or racial discrimination. Conversely, “at will” employees have a similar right to resign their employment, for any reason (or no reason at all), at any time.
More from Caesars employee handbook
Under “conflicts of interest,” the Caesars employee handbook reads in part:
- All company officers shall avoid acts and situations which are a) improper; b) might give an appearance of impropriety or c) might impair their good judgement when acting on behalf of the company.
- Borrowing or accepting money or gifts or things of value form a company doing business with our company. Engaging in private business relationship for commercial purposes with a firm doing business with our company.
- Having an interest in a firm that does business with our company, other than insignificant (as detailed) interest in public companies.
- Engaging in private business for commercial purpose with your supervisor or an employee you supervise.
- Engaging in a competing business or owning stock or other securities with a competitor.
Indirect conflicts of interests – transactions involving your spouse, children, or other close relative or business associate must be disclosed. For example, if your spouse competes with the company, you are required to make disclosures so the company may determine whether that constitutes a conflict.
Prior to engaging in any activity which could result in a conflict of interest, employees are required to review the proposed activity with their director and the proper HR director who will make a written record of the manner in which the question is resolved and forward a copy of such record to the attorney in charge.
Open jobs at Harrah’s Philadelphia
About nine jobs at Harrah’s Philadelphia are listed on Indeed.
This was hung in employee common areas at Harrah’s a day after the firings:
Employment lawyer weighs in
Jonathan S. Krause is the co-chair of the litigation department at Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg in Philadelphia and spoke to PlayPennsylvania this week.
Without talking to all parties involved and having not read the employee handbook in its entirety, Krause could not offer specifics on the situation with Harrah’s Philadelphia and the terminated employees.
However, he offered his insight regarding employment law.
“In general, I don’t think it should come as a surprise to employees if they choose, en masse, to go work for a competitor that the employer would not look at that favorably. You would think there would be an understanding that working for a competitor would not be received well and would result in a termination.”
Krause also stressed the importance of communication:
“A lot of what takes place between an employer and employee is about good communication and is an exercise of judgement by both.”
When asked, “What if employees did give the supervisor notice about a job at another casino?” he responded:
“Not knowing the specifics, I wouldn’t be able to speak about that. I’ll bring it up again, because it is paramount in employer and employee relationships: Clear communication and the setting of expectations helps the business and the employees to know what should or should not be done. [emphasis added]”
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon