Elon Musk is making progress plans to slim down Twitter since he bought it 396 million members platform for 44 billion dollars (£38 billion) on October 27. Musk’s deal has taken Twitter by storm private, dissolved the board of the platform and strengthened his unilateral power as CEO. But announcements of mass layoffs made since he took power have come under scrutiny worldwide.
Musk’s plans to restructure Twitter began with firing top managers, before roughly half of Twitter’s global workforce was informed by email that they were being laid off or that their jobs were on the line. In a memo to staffMusk defended the layoffs as “an effort to put Twitter on a healthy path” and “unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success going forward.”
The widely reported memo also informed employees that they would learn their fate by email. It said:
Given the nature of our dispersed workforce and our desire to inform affected individuals as quickly as possible, communications for this process will be via email.
Join TNW in Valencia!
The heart of technology comes to the heart of the Mediterranean
But tweet by some employees they showed found out before the email arrived when they couldn’t access their work accounts or other internal systems. And a class action lawsuit filed in the US on Nov. 3 alleges that Twitter has denied employees access to their accounts, with at least one of the five plaintiffs “terminated without notice or severance pay,” according to news reports.
Firing staff in this way seems impersonal, blunt and without compassion. Especially in Ireland, home to Twitter’s European headquarters, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland) called Twitter’s actions “unacceptable” and pointed out that workers should be treated with dignity and respect.
Unfortunately, Twitter’s approach resembles strategies employed by a growing number of companies in recent years. Klarna, a Swedish financial technology company, sent out a pre-recorded message to inform 700 employees laid off last May, while P&O Ferries laid off 800 staff Zoom in March. Mortgage company Better.com has laid off 900 employees immediately Zoom in 2021, a year after electric scooter manufacturer Bird introduced a Zoom webinar to lay off more than 400 employees.
Twitter operates globally, and employment laws vary from country to country, and even from country to country in the US. Indeed, the messages sent to Twitter employees varied from person to person where they were stationed.
In the US, the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers with 100 or more employees to give employees 60 days’ notice of mass layoffs. Alternatively, employers can provide employees with 60 days of redundancy pay. After Twitter employees lawsuit in California on November 3, Musk tweeted the following night that every laid-off employee will be offered three months of severance pay.
Twitter is also expected to provide advance warning of mass layoffs to California’s Employment Development Department. A representative of the agency told the New York Times no warning had been given by the evening of November 3.
UK and EU law require companies to consult with staff about mass layoffs. This could explain why Twitter employees in the UK and Ireland reportedly received a slightly reworded email informing them that their jobs are “potentially” affected or “at risk”.
A email sent to UK workers on Friday 4 November, said they had until 9am the following Tuesday to nominate someone to represent them in a formal meeting. Twitter has notified workers in Ireland that they must also nominate worker representatives to participate in a formal consultation process.
Twitter has not responded to requests for comment on this process or communications with employees regarding these layoffs.
With this level of uncertainty, it’s not surprising that some Twitter employees joined unions prior to the layoffs. In the United Kingdom, Expectation at least represents some Twitter employees and says it will support members to defend their livelihoods. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has argued that the case highlights that workers in various industries should have better opportunities and rights to join trade unions as a form of collective voice.
Likewise the United Nations, that advocates for “decent work and economic growth,” even felt compelled to comment after Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has a open letter urging Musk to ensure that human rights are an integral part of the management of Twitter under his leadership, saying:
Reports that Twitter’s entire human rights team and all but two members of its AI ethics team have been fired this week are not an encouraging start from my perspective.
Civil society groups and alliances were already concerned about the direction Twitter could take after the acquisition. Musk has called out “activist groups” for allegedly pressuring advertisers stop working with Twitter.
Pfizer, General Mills and Volkswagen are some of the companies that have recently interrupted their advertisements on the platform. Others may follow after the layoff announcements.
Twitter users have also already moved to alternative social media platforms, and this kind of migration could continue after news of the massive job cuts. One such alternative, the Irish microblogging site Mastodon, receivables since Twitter’s acquisition deal, more than 230,000 people have switched to it.
Worried about digital layoffs?
The Twitter chaos certainly seems far from over reports indicating that the company is now asking some laid-off employees to return to work.
Layoffs have spiked in recent months across the technology sector, including companies like Facebook owner meta and payment company stripe recently announced job cuts, although not all have implemented digital layoffs.
If you are faced with a layoff – whether digitally or face-to-face – it is important to know your rights. Trade unions can provide information about this and can support and represent employees before and after the announcement of layoffs. In the UK you can also contact the Advice, Mediation and Arbitration Service for information about your rights, while other countries have similar services, such as the Commission on Labor Relations in Ireland.