AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-based pizza restaurant Via 313 is responding to what it says are “untruths” currently circulating about recent employee protests. The comments come after several employees protested over the weekend — after they say staff members were suspended amid COVID-19 safety concerns.

Employees say the suspensions happened after 46 workers signed a petition requesting increased COVID-19 safety and paid sick time.

“In the last few days, we have seen many untruths circulating about our restaurant,” Via 313 said Tuesday. “Here are the facts…”

The company confirmed 46 employees signed a petition and that 43 of them were not suspended and remain employed. Instead, Via 313 says employees who were suspended created a “hostile work environment” as claims were investigated.

Via 313 says eight employees who signed the petition “aggressively approached one of our management team members, causing this person to feel threatened and bullied. Other employees and customers were about to step in to defend this employee because of the hostility present.”

Five of the eight employees involved in presenting the list of demands were never suspended or fired, Via 313 says.

Meanwhile, the group of employees who protested says the company has “a history of COVID-19 mismanagement” and claims that 15 employees contracted coronavirus in the past two weeks — they say management never notified those who were in close contact with them, resulting in more infections.

People carrying protest signs reading "People Over Profit" and "Good Pizza, Bad Business"
Several employees gathered at the Via 313 restaurant located at 3016 Guadalupe St. in central Austin on Saturday to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions and unfair worker suspensions (KXAN/Mariano Garza)

But Via 313 says employees demanded to know the identities of the people who tested positive for COVID-19, which would have been a HIPAA violation.

“Asking management to share who has tested positive is the same as asking management to do something illegal,” Via 313 said in a statement. “Threatening a fellow employee to share these names publicly is unlawful. This was one of the most serious demands made to us for transparency. Following federal and state laws will remain the policy of Via 313 to further protect our employees.”

Via 313 says it’s followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, federal/state mandates and other protocols since March 2020. Additionally, it says that while certain employee allegations are being taken seriously.

The company adds:

“Since inception, Via 313 has always been about positive company culture and supporting our team members with any concerns they might have. In no situation can we condone hostility in the workplace… we have always had an open-door policy at Via 313. As we continue to have one-on-one meetings with employees, before and after this unfortunate situation, we continue to reiterate our desire to answer any questions or concerns that may exist for our employees. Starting this morning, management is meeting with team members individually to discuss the current situation, how to reach a peaceful resolution, and how to maintain a positive work environment within Via 313.”

Via 313

The company says it’s monitoring state and local sick pay policy requirements and that once it’s determined how businesses are to provide and fund sick pay, it will “comply to the full extent of the law.”