UK staffers fired by Twitter when Elon Musk took the helm are claiming the dismissals were conducted unlawfully and include unacceptable severance terms, marking the latest labour-related challenge to hit the billionaire.
London-based law firm Winckworth Sherwood accused Twitter of carrying out “unlawful, unfair and completely unacceptable treatment” to former UK employees as part of a “sham redundancy process” in a letter sent to the social media platform on Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by the Financial Times.
Winckworth represents 43 of the more than 180 UK staffers let go by the company in a mass lay-off exercise in early November, just days after Musk bought the platform for $44bn. Twitter is estimated to have cut almost half of its 7,500-strong workforce since then.
If their complaints were not resolved, many planned to take the social media company to an employment tribunal, the law firm warned, which could add to the company’s growing pile of legal and regulatory woes.
Twitter already faces at least 200 legal complaints in the US — in the form of arbitration demands — and four class action lawsuits from those affected by the lay-offs there, said labour rights attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, whose firm Lichten has filed the disputes.
Separately on Monday evening, Mike Clancy, general secretary for the UK trade union Prospect, wrote to Twitter raising the same concerns as Winckworth and urged the platform to “pause the redundancy process” and meet with the union, according to a copy of the letter seen by the FT.
Clancy also accused Twitter of “choosing not to honour the severance terms communicated and implemented prior to the acquisition” — despite a clause in the merger agreement that states employees will receive “no less favourable terms than they had prior to the takeover”.
The legal complaints come as Musk ramps up his cost-cutting efforts at Twitter, arguing that the company could face a negative cash flow of $3bn a year or even “bankruptcy” if he cannot bring it to financial health.
However, the belt-tightening has raised fears over Twitter’s compliance with local laws globally, prompting some ex-staffers to take legal action, which if successful could prove costly to the company.
Multiple US staffers complained they had received lowball severance offers over the weekend, while one told the FT they have yet to receive any offer at all.
Lisa Bloom, another lawyer representing dozens of former US Twitter staffers, tweeted on Monday that the US severance offer included a tough non-disparagement clause and a requirement to waive the right to sue the company.
“They are really settlement agreements which SILENCE WORKERS FOR LIFE and require them to give up important legal rights,” Bloom wrote.
Under UK law, if a company decides to cut more than 100 jobs, there must be a consultation period of at least 45 days between those employees “at risk” and the company before any redundancies can be made — during which those affected are able to gather information on the proposed lay-offs and potentially negotiate terms.
However, Prospect and Winckworth argue Twitter made the decision in late October to fire workers unlawfully, cutting off access to staff computers and offices on the day lay-offs were announced before making a “retrospective” attempt to introduce the formal redundancy consultation.
They argue Twitter has since failed to meet its legal obligations to provide information on the criteria it has used to determine who to let go and failed to respond to formal grievances, but rushed other parts of the process.
According to a document outlining the severance package proposed by Twitter, seen by the FT, UK staffers have been offered two months’ gross basic salary, plus two weeks’ gross basic salary for each year of employment.
This falls short of the company’s previous severance terms, according to Prospect, as well as norms in the wider tech sector. For example, Meta offered staff 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for every year of service in the major round of lay-offs it announced in November.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.