Monday, December 5 2022

PTI, Nov 9, 2022, 12:10 p.m. IST

Elon Musk has been pushing ahead with his Twitter relief plans since buying the platform of 396 million members for $44 billion (38 billion euros) on October 27.

Musk’s deal took Twitter out of business, dissolved the platform’s board and cemented his one-sided power as CEO. But announcements of mass layoffs made since he took power have come under global scrutiny.

Musk’s plans to restructure Twitter began by laying off senior executives, before email notifications were sent to about half of Twitter’s global workforce that they were being laid off or their jobs were threatened.

In a memo to staff, Musk defended the layoffs as “an effort to put Twitter on a healthy path” and “unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success in the future.”

The widely circulated memo also informed employees that they would be notified of their whereabouts via email. He said: Given the nature of our distributed workforce and our desire to notify affected individuals as quickly as possible, communications for this process will be via email.

But tweets from some employees showed they discovered before the email arrived that they couldn’t access their work accounts or other internal systems. And a class action lawsuit filed in the United States on November 3 alleges that Twitter blocked employees’ access to their accounts, with at least one of the five plaintiffs being “terminated without notice or severance pay”, according to reports.

Digital dismissals Firing staff in this way seems impersonal, brutal and devoid of compassion.

Certainly in Ireland, home of Twitter’s European headquarters, the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) called Twitter’s actions “unacceptable” and stressed that workers should be treated with dignity and respect.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s approach resembles the strategies adopted by a growing number of companies in recent years. Klarna, a Swedish fintech company, sent out a pre-recorded message notifying employees of 700 layoffs last May, while P and O ferries laid off 800 employees via Zoom in March.

Mortgage company Better.com laid off 900 Zoom employees in 2021, a year after electric scooter company Bird used a Zoom webinar to lay off more than 400 workers.

Twitter operates globally, and employment regulations vary from country to country, and even state to state. Indeed, the communications sent to Twitter employees differed depending on their place of residence.

In the United States, the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide workers with 60 days notice of mass terminations.

Alternatively, employers can provide workers with 60 days of severance pay. After Twitter employees filed their lawsuit in California on Nov. 3, Musk tweeted the following night that each terminated employee will be offered three months of severance pay.

Twitter is also expected to provide advance warnings of mass layoffs to the California Department of Employment Development. A representative for the agency told the New York Times that no warning had been given as of the evening of November 3.

Under UK and EU law, companies must consult their staff in the event of mass redundancies. This may explain why Twitter employees in the UK and Ireland reportedly received a slightly different email advising them that their work is “potentially” impacted or “at risk”.

An email sent to UK employees on Friday November 4 said they had until 9am the following Tuesday to appoint someone to represent them in a formal consultation.

Twitter informed employees in Ireland that they would also need to nominate employee representatives to engage in a formal consultation process.

Twitter did not respond to requests for comment on this process or on its communications with employees regarding these layoffs.

Reputational risk With this level of uncertainty, it’s no surprise that some Twitter employees joined unions before the layoffs. In the UK, Prospect represents at least some Twitter employees and says it will help members defend their livelihoods.

The Irish Trades Union Congress argued that the case highlights the need for workers across all sectors to have better opportunities and rights to join unions as a form of collective voice.

Similarly, the UN, which advocates “decent work and economic growth,” even felt compelled to comment following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk released an open letter urging Musk to ensure that human rights are an integral part of the management of Twitter under his leadership, stating: he team was dismissed this week is not, from my point of view, an encouraging start.

Civil society groups and alliances were already worried about the direction Twitter might take after its takeover. Musk called out “activist groups” for allegedly pressuring advertisers to stop working with Twitter.

Pfizer, General Mills and Volkswagen are among the companies that recently suspended advertising on the platform. Others could follow after the layoff announcements.

Twitter users have also already turned to alternative social media platforms, and this kind of migration could continue after the announcement of the massive job cuts. One such alternative, Irish microblogging site Mastodon, says more than 230,000 people have moved there since the Twitter takeover deal.

Worried about digital layoffs? The chaos on Twitter certainly seems far from over, with reports indicating that the company is now asking some laid-off employees to return to work.

Layoffs have risen sharply across the tech sector in recent months, with companies such as Facebook owner Meta and payments company Stripe recently announcing job cuts, though not all have implemented digital layoffs.

If you’re facing redundancy – whether digitally or face-to-face – it’s important to know your rights. Unions can provide information on this and can also support and represent employees before and after layoffs are announced.

In the UK you can also contact the Advice, Conciliation and Arbitration Service for information about your rights, while other countries will have equivalent services such as the Workplace Relations Commission in Ireland.

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