Legal blog Above the Law has reproduced a memo from the Chairman of well-known law firm (Update: Cadwalader, Wickersham, and Taft) announcing to employees that there is a bed bug problem on the 33rd floor in the Word Processing dept. of that firm. (MediaBistro’s FlishBowlNY blog is also covering this, so the leaked memo is getting around.)

In it, he describes the treatment, and repercussions meted out to the alleged source of the infestation.

Oh, and the Chairman also says they don’t have “an infestation.” Whatever that means.

The memo contains some strange claims, including assertions that:

a) “A single treatment by an exterminator usually controls bed bugs and prevents reinfestation for several months.”

Not so, assuming traditional methods (sprays, powders and the like), most cases require multiple treatments.

b) Treatments occurred on June 18th, again the next morning, and again a week later (based, apparently on additional bed bug sightings in the same area.

This is odd, since the memo also rightly admits it is normal to see some bed bugs after the first treatment. Why did they keep spraying before the expected 10-day follow-up?

c) “They do not show themselves during daylight hours, only at night in the dark.”

That’s not necessarily true.

d) “[Name of PCO firm] has said that it is very unlikely that these bugs could be transmitted to your home. However, for the next several days, please closely examine your clothing and any materials you take out of the office.”

it’s definitely possible you brought them home. And be vigilant for several months or more, since one or two bugs can establish themselves in time. You may not be allergic and so you may not feel bites; in such circumstances, you might not notice visible evidence of bed bugs for many, many months. Until they are everywhere and you are seeing them in the daytime.

e) “Note also that [name of PCO] has assured us that [name of law firm] does not have any infestation and will continue to proceed with an aggressive course of action to remedy the situation.”

Um, how many bed bugs do you think you have to have, to have an infestation?
Because I’d say you
do have one.

f) Oddly enough, they think they know the original source of the bed bugs:

“During the course of the extermination, a box was identified as the source of the bugs and was immediately removed from the premises.”

Possible, but really? Can you be sure the bed bugs came from the box?

g) And finally, most distressingly, this statement:

“The individual who we believe brought the insects into the firm came forward on Tuesday, June 19, and is no longer associated with the firm.”

We don’t know the details. Assuming this employee was fired only for allegedly bringing bed bugs into the firm, and assuming this person did not intentionally or knowingly bring the bed bugs in, perhaps s/he has a good case for wrongful dismissal. I really, truly hope so. That would be a bed bug lawsuit I could get behind. Because even if the employee brought the bed bugs in, it is quite possible s/he did so unknowingly.

Oddly enough, it may take months for the other employees to get that. But when some of them unknowingly take bed bugs home, they will understand that the blame game does not work with bed bugs.

This is the first time I have heard of anyone being fired because of bed bugs. Things are starting to get really ugly.

1 hopelessnomo June 27, 2007 at 9:52 am

Having bedbugs and having an infestation, obviously totally different things!

Not sure about this particular firm, but word processing departments are usually 24-hour operations and they are often contracted out. By the wording used, I suspect it’s possible they didn’t fire an employee of the firm; they dropped a temp or an employee of their contractor. Not the same thing, legally, for them. Morally…

2 nobugsonme June 27, 2007 at 11:26 am

Good point, Nomo.

Um, it might also explain why the company thinks they only come out at night–perhaps in this case, they did and were spotted then.

I knew people who worked in permanent jobs of this type, in which case perhaps they have recourse. It’s likely of course that the firm would win. In which case, we might have Bedbuggers protesting outside.

Crack out the dark glasses, Wantmyskinback!

3 hopelessnomo June 27, 2007 at 2:35 pm

If it’s a big 24-hour center, there could be 3 shifts, 3 people occupying the same chairs every day. Even if it’s staffed in-house, they still probably use temps? Multiplying exposure. Plus normal traffic, in and out 24/7? Sad.

I just figure they wouldn’t use that language if they’d fired an employee. (I think HR wouldn’t let them, no?) But I’m not going to put anything past them, of course.

4 Bugalina June 27, 2007 at 3:08 pm

I doubt that they were stupid enough to fire someone on the grounds of “causing bed bug infestation”…there must be undisclosed extenuating circumstances. The fact remains that they have a big problem on their hands. If any employees bring home an infestation, they can sue the firm…This is why any business that has bed bug evidence must come forth immediately with disclosure….I cringe at the thought of yet, more suing going on, that would be a disaster. Responsible, quick action are of utmost importance in a bed bug war. Without a decent residual kill this “business” scenario will be yet another notch in the bed bug hellhole belt. We can educate all we want, and we must, but education and mattress covers will take us just so far, only a long lasting residual kill will wipe them out …

5 James Buggles June 27, 2007 at 5:00 pm

The law firm is Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft. The PCO is Assured Environments. Funnily enough, our old office space was served by Assured Environments. I once asked the guy about bedbugs in offices, and he told me that office infestations were becoming increasingly common.

Bugalina is probably right about us not knowing all the details. But anyway, you can fire someone for bringing bedbugs to the office just as you can fire someone for smelling bad or even spilling coffee on the floor. There are no legal rights in such a situation. Rights only apply with regard to gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and disability (maybe one or two others).

6 nyjammin June 27, 2007 at 9:13 pm

It was stated above that “Oddly enough, it may take months for the other employees to get that. But when some of them unknowingly take bed bugs home, they will understand that the blame game does not work with bed bugs”.

I disagree with the above statement. For someone might say “if it wasn’t for ‘such and such’ bringing bedbugs into work, then we would not have them right now.” I used to work at a big major law firm for 11 years. Believe me, it is very easy for people to play the “blame game”. Especially, if people are not educated on the matter and people usually are not if something doesn’t affect people directly. It’s amazing, even though with a lot of people working at major firms, legal or otherwise, for people not to know a lot about a specific subject.

I’m not saying the “blame game” will happen. I hope it does not. I hope people who work there will go onto the internet and educate themselves.

Hopeless, you’re right as far as shifts go. But, on top of that, I’ve known secretaries to do overtime on the weekends at my 24/7 law firm and the secretaries do wp jobs and they can sit wherever there is a computer available in the wp center. So, that may mean more people being exposed than what you’ve described. I’ve also seen lawyers plop down on secretary or word processors chairs to make a little edit to a document or write a note to the secretary or word processor and then go back to their offices. What about the documents that are interoffice mailed? I can go on and on about how many people could have been exposed.

Bugalina, as always, I agree w/you 100% and more. Nothing more said.

Mr. James Buggles, I disagree w/you as far as being fired for anything. I truly believe that it must be documented as to why the firing happened. If that person was a temp from a temp agency then the law firm can just not deal with that agency anymore, that’s ok. But, if that person was an official employee, then it would be much harder to fire them for petty things. It all depends. I think that everything must be documented in case there is a lawsuit, then the firm has to show its case.

Also something to think about. Doesn’t unemployment pay benefits to people for certain circumstances? What if that person went to unemployment to ask if they could get benefits for bringing bbs to work. Does anyone think that unemployment will even know how to answer? Maybe they will just deny benefits for lack of information.

7 nobugsonme June 27, 2007 at 11:33 pm

My point in saying:

“Because even if the employee brought the bed bugs in, it is quite possible s/he did so unknowingly.

Oddly enough, it may take months for the other employees to get that. But when some of them unknowingly take bed bugs home, they will understand that the blame game does not work with bed bugs.”

… was this:

Everyone at C, W and T may now be cheering that the loser who brought in bed bugs was fired.

But in a few months, when they have taken home bed bugs to their wives, boyfriends and kids, they will realize that they are blamed, the same way this person was blamed. And they will undoubtedly have brought bed bugs home as innocently and unknowingly as the person fired this week.

The blame game doesn’t work with bed bugs because you can carry them to others without even knowing you have them.

Jammin, maybe the person who spread them to this law firm was not paid enough to cover proper treatment, or maybe s/he had a landlord who did not treat thoroughly. Should s/he be entirely to blame? I don’t think so. S/he may not even have known about the bugs. We don’t know.

Now s/he’s unemployed too.

And in a few months, some unwitting lawyer from that firm is going to have a wife is going to hate him for bringing bed bugs home. Will it be his fault? He won’t know he did it either. And maybe she’ll take them to work before they even discover them, and she’ll be sacked too.

In some cases, people _are_ careless, and should be blamed.

But in others, they either did not know they had them, or took what they thought to be reasonable care, and transmitted them anyway. All I am saying is trying to find someone to blame for your bed bug infestation is unfair–because people are often wrong in where they choose to assign blame, and also because bed bugs can be carried in the bags of people who have absolutely no idea.

8 Bugalina June 28, 2007 at 7:42 am

The blame lies with our Country as a whole. Allowing this bug infestation to continue on its path of physical, emotional and financial destruction is unconscionable. The flippant attitude of some in the scientific community when they say that we will have to “learn to live with them” is unconscionable. Government officials who are sitting on their arses and doing nothing about public awareness are to blame. Businesses that sell reconditioned mattresses are to blame. Ultimatly we are at the mercy of ignorance. I learned from my infestation that blame doesn’t kill the bugs, hard work, lots of money, loss and time and chemicals kill these monsters. But they can return, because there is no decent residual chemical being used, thanks to ignorance. So these office bldgs. are just another victim.

9 parakeets June 28, 2007 at 8:48 am

Could an employee even deliberately bring a container of bedbugs into work on purpose? The more employees you have, the more likely one of them is to “go postal” in some way. Could an employee “go bedbug postal?” Yes! However I can’t imagine an employer letting someone go for simply inadvertently bringing bedbugs to work How could they possibly prove it? (Though I agree there were other factors we don’t know about. Eg, there could have been an immigration status issue that had been under the radar for a contract employee–very common situation–and the bedbug confrontation brought it to light?)

10 Winston O. Buggy June 28, 2007 at 10:27 am

Actually Take Your Bed Bug To Work Day has been going on for awhile
the first case I heard of was about three years ago in the upscale offices
of a foreign bank. Since then I’ve encountered it two or three times. One
of them in a city agencies office. These outbreaks were small and quickly dealt
with. In one case they had the employees home treated as well. I imagine we
will see more of this in the future. Unfortunately there is little that can be done
prophylacticly at this time.

11 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 11:20 am

Thanks Winston.

Parakeets–yes! It could absolutely happen. In this case, though, it sounds like a box of work or something was brought in infested.

The FAQs have tips on not spreading bed bugs and many readers think they’re over the top. They include recommendations that folks with active infestations shower and change into fresh bagged clothes right before leaving home, that people keep briefcases, purses, laptop cases, etc. bagged while in the home, and are careful about coats and shoes (and cars) not being infested.

On a practical level, it’s a nightmare. Try getting a reluctant or non-believing roommate, parent, husband, or child to do this. But it does help Bedbuggers go to work with some peace of mind.

I’ll never forget the story someone shared on the net about having a bed bug crawl across his body during a job interview…

12 parakeets June 28, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Take your bedbug to work day! LOL!

13 James Buggles June 28, 2007 at 1:43 pm

nyjammin, great post but an employer can fire an at will employee for cause or for no reason at all (though it’s probably wise to document a reason). Also, I believe you cannot collect unemployment if you were fired for cause. You can collect it only if you were let go through no fault of your own (e.g., layoffs).

14 James Buggles June 28, 2007 at 1:49 pm

I bet bedbugs travel to offices every day, but most probably die quickly because it’s not a great environment for them — lots of light, pesticide to control roaches, daily vacuuming, etc.

15 James Buggles June 28, 2007 at 1:54 pm

Sorry for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner posts, but I don’t think the firm had much choice here. If the person stays, everyone in the word processing department would treat him/her like a leper, morale would plummet, lawyers would not send the person any work, etc. Maybe a false sense of calm now exists, but that’s better than the alternative.

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