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Ex-Twitter Brits launch legal challenge against dismissal

How to conduct a UK redundancy process: Not the way the US social media company is doing it, say sacked employees

UK Twitter employees included among the thousands fired when Elon Musk took control of the company have challenged their dismissal, claiming a collective consultation redundancy process currently under way isn't conforming to British law.

After finalizing the $44 billion Twitter buy, Musk fired several execs including former CEO Parag Agrawal, finance chief Ned Segal, and head of legal policy, trust and safety (who took the decision to ban ex-US president Donald Trump) Vijaya Gadde. He also sacked almost 50 percent of Twitter's workforce globally, including staffers based in Britain.

In a legal letter sent to Twitter UK Ltd and seen by The Register, some of the staffers in the midst of the "unfinished" process say their formal grievances haven't been dealt with properly by the social media company.

At the heart of their complaint appears to be the allegation that decisions about their employment were made before November 4, and that the "retrospective attempt" to apply the process is therefore "unlawful" and "unfair." The process, claims the letter, began after the employees' "abrupt removal from its premises and systems. According to publicly available sources and comments, this appears to have been led by fiat from the US and potentially with the assistance of SpaceX staff."

Their lawyers, London's Winkworth Sherwood, wrote in the letter that employee reps sought and were not given clarity on the "selection criteria" Twitter planned to apply to those in scope of the redundancy exercise.

They also noted that the "ACAS Code in relation to the investigation of a grievance and the procedure it follows will be taken into account if a case reaches the Employment Tribunal."

Mass layoff lawsuits elsewhere

Twitter is also facing would-be class actions in California where similar claims are being raised. The earliest of these suits, filed the day before the takeover (November 3, 2022), already sought to prohibit Twitter from circumventing the requirements of the WARN Act and the California WARN Act by conducting mass layoffs without providing the required notice, as well as "soliciting the employees it is laying off to sign separation agreements that release their claims under the WARN Act and/or California WARN Act, without first informing them of this lawsuit or their rights under those statutes."

In that suit, Cornet v. Twitter, Inc, one of four filed by US attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan against Twitter on behalf of former America-based staffers affected by the takeover, Twitter's most recent filings indicate it is attempting to force the plaintiffs to have their claims decided through an individual arbitration process instead of a group action, as well as to transfer the venue from California to Delaware. The social media corp claimed the merger agreement contract stipulates Delaware as the exclusive venue for any legal proceedings "aris[ing] out of or relating to" the Merger Agreement."

UK employment law

Before a case gets to tribunal, UK employees must contact ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), a non-departmental public body, first to try to resolve the dispute through early conciliation. ACAS states that "employers must follow a full and fair procedure in line with the ACAS Code for any discipline or grievance case" as the "procedure an employer follows and an employee's actions will be taken into account if the case reaches an employment tribunal."

The letter says that if "a satisfactory outcome" with Twitter can't be achieved, some of the employees will be moving forward with tribunal claims against the company.

The UK's Employment Tribunal presides over cases from employees, job applicants and trade unions over various issues including pay (unfair deductions, treatment etc.), dismissal and discrimination.

Over on the FT, which said it saw a document outlining the severance package Twitter offered, it is claimed that UK-based staff were offered two months' gross basic salary, plus two weeks' gross basic salary for each year they were employed, apparently "falling short of norms in the wider tech sector" – such as Meta's offer of 16 weeks base pay plus two additional weeks for every year of service in its November '22 layoffs.

It also said the union had written to Twitter asking it to "pause" the redundancy process.

We wrote to one of the Twitter email addresses that doesn't bounce back in order to give Musk's social media corp the opportunity to respond. Where there's life, there's hope. As always, folks, you know how to contact us and we'd be happy to update with your statement.

Meanwhile, the SpaceX boss continues to fight legal battles across the pond, not only in relation to Twitter, but also Tesla shareholders who think he's paid too much.

He's also come in for criticism since the acquisition for dividing attention between SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter as well as for dunking on Twitter's engineers and firing them after they publicly lambasted his technical knowledge.

The man himself has claimed he will resign as chief executive of Twitter once he finds a replacement, having previously insisted he never wanted to be CEO of anything.

It's not all bad news for Musk. He did score at least one win so far this year – the SpaceX boss is officially one of the first Guiness World record holders in 2023. Well done. ®

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