Thursday, December 27, 2018

You may remember a case from last year’s term called Epic Systems Corp v. Lewis. Justice Gorsuch wrote for the five-justice conservative majority, holding that companies can require their employees to resolve work-related disputes through individual arbitration and waive their right to pursue claims as a class. Feel free to read the opinion for a more complete explanation.

About a week ago, I noticed an article in the New York Times about the wacky work culture of Epic Systems. It’s the kind of information I wish I had when the case was pending at the Supreme Court — that “the woman who controls [Epic Systems] is a septuagenarian coding savant, its campus contains a human-size rabbit hole and an elevator to hell, and in all probability your personal medical records are on servers running its software.”

Who knew!?

Here are some excerpts:

“Epic Systems is a health care services provider with $2.7 billion in annual revenue. Its mathematician chief executive, Judy Faulkner, is a billionaire recluse who hosts P.T. Barnum-esque gatherings for clients. Those clients — big hospitals and health systems around the United States and more than a dozen overseas markets — are served by customer-service representatives known as BFFs. Every month, employees are compelled to gather in a subterranean chamber for two-and-a-half-hour staff meetings that have been likened to a megachurch experience. Workers are discouraged from ordering business materials on Amazon or living more than 45 minutes away from the office, in order to shorten commutes and keep Epic’s wealth in the local economy.

I walked past a sculpture of Humpty Dumpty, set on a wall and typing away on an Epic laptop, past the warning against carrying concealed weapons (Wisconsin allows them in most public venues), and into reception.

Epic’s coders often leave campus to embed in operating and recovery rooms, where they watch nurses ripping the tops off blood bags and surgeons opening up people’s chest cavities. It’s an experience that young engineers are unlikely to get at, say, Facebook or Snap, working on algorithms that tailor ads to demographic groups or insert rainbow vomit into photographs.

“The volume of work at Epic, regardless of what role you’re in, is very high,” said Jacob Lewis, who was a technical writer at Epic before he left in 2014. He later sued the company over unpaid overtime. His case, a class-action suit that hinged on the obligation to sign an employee agreement that forced workers into arbitration, rather than litigation, was combined with similar cases and was heard by the Supreme Court last year. The workers lost.

This combination of chaotic, stressful client visits and isolating, mundane office work might explain the company’s Disney dimension. Epic is a place where wedding music plays on a campuswide public-announcement system when new clients are signed. Dry-cleaning services are found at the “New York Sock Exchange.” Employees can hurtle down an “Alice in Wonderland” slide into a room with miniature furniture. They are encouraged to visit a conference room encased by waterfalls and a shark pond when in need of inspiration. (The shark is fake.) Internal awards for outstanding work are named after Jack Bauer and MacGyver.

Workers who fully commit to Epic — who survive the long hours and grisly sights — are treated to a remarkable perk. After five years, they get a sabbatical, including round-trip airfare for two to travel somewhere they’ve never been for a month, plus a per diem for meals and lodging. (They get another sabbatical after 10 years, 15, and so on.)”

–Anna Salvatore


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