Over the last few days, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and the ensuing announcement of mass redundancies has been in the news, with mostly negative headlines. Businesses often restructure and reduce staff numbers after a takeover or other major ownership changes, so what (apart from the reputation of Mr Musk) makes this one particularly newsworthy?
Firstly, unlike the recent P&O case where the employer took a deliberate decision to break the law, it’s become clear as more news has emerged that this is more cock-up than conspiracy. Twitter seem to have taken the view that the approach to redundancy in the US would apply throughout the world without any reference to local employment laws or expectations.
In the UK for example, there is a duty to consult staff in advance of redundancies taking effect, with specified time limits when more than 20 redundancies are planned. There’s also a requirement to notify the Government (via the Insolvency Service) of redundancies at the same time. It appears from reports that Twitter announced the mass redundancies and then realised they needed to consult so are hastily trying to put together consultative arrangements. However, consultation must also be meaningful, and it’s hard to see how it could be so in this case if the decisions have already been made.
Secondly, the method of announcing the decision was crude and arbitrary – staff seem to have found out in advance of a formal announcement when they were locked out of work email and social media channels (as another example of the US-centric nature of the exercise, announcements were made at 9am California Time – after the end of the working day for most of Europe and at the end of it for the UK)
Thirdly, it now appears that at least some of the people who were made redundant are actually needed by the company, with a number being asked to return. Having been treated in such a manner, it’s unlikely that many will.
It’s a salutary lesson that even if you are a ‘successful billionaire tech business person’ you can still make major mistakes – and ones that play havoc with people’s lives. It’s little surprise that goodwill towards the company is in short supply.
If you do need to consider redundancy in the UK, and sadly they are a fact of life for many businesses at one time or another, remember these key points.
- Think carefully and plan where and when redundancies need to be made, allowing for consultation and other periods – including legal minimum timescales
- Remember your legal obligation – in the UK – is to avoid redundancy if you can so give thought to possible redeployment of affected staff
- Inform staff face to face if you can, but if that is not possible then an email explaining the situation and the reasons for redundancy
- Your decision will have a major impact on people’s lives – bear that in mind and show some empathy for what they are going through. And don’t expect people to always behave ‘rationally’ in the circumstances. (Even if you don’t have any fellow feeling for specific individuals, remember that other staff in your business will be watching how you treat their colleagues and their subsequent goodwill may depend on how you deal with the situation)
- Make sure you know what people are entitled to in terms of notice and redundancy pay, and pay them promptly after their employment ends.
The restructuring of Twitter is proving to be something of a case study in how not to reduce your workforce. And while Elon Musk has bottomless pockets which will allow him to buy his way out of employment litigation, most businesses don’t, so make sure you do it right!