San Francisco (AFP) – The purge initiated by Elon Musk at Twitter in early November left more than half of the employees on the floor, many of whom are now taking legal action, a process that promises to be long and potentially costly for the entrepreneur.
Impossible to know how many people still work at Twitter, the Californian company having, a priori, more press service.
But “about 50%” of the 7,500 employees were dismissed on November 3, according to an internal message. “All those who lost their jobs were offered three months of compensation,” Elon Musk tweeted the next day.
Five recently fired Twitter employees immediately filed a class action lawsuit against the company.
They put forward two main reasons. On the one hand, the rupture of an agreement concluded before the acquisition of the social network by the boss of Tesla.
Last summer, the former management of Twitter had indeed promised employees that in the event of a social plan they would obtain a certain level of financial compensation.
The goal was to “slow down departures”, says Shannon Liss-Riordan, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. Some 700 employees resigned even before being sure that the multi-billionaire would indeed take control of the platform.
“Then Musk came along and threw that promise out the window,” says the lawyer.
The second reason concerns the 60-day notice period required by US law in the event of mass layoffs (Warn Act), which was not respected for some employees.
“Twitter claims they were fired for professional misconduct, when in our opinion they are part of the social plan”, continues Shannon Liss-Riordan.
The lawyer also accompanies two other class actions, one on behalf of employees of a subcontractor, the other for discrimination.
Because two weeks after the layoffs, Elon Musk imposed an ultimatum: work “fully, unconditionally”, in the office, or walk out. However, teleworking is the only option for some employees with disabilities.
The San Francisco company is also the target of an investigation into the conversion of certain offices at its headquarters into bedrooms for employees sleeping there, according to KQED News, a local radio station.
The legal route taken by the five former employees of the social network is tenuous, because “most Twitter employees are bound by an arbitration clause”, which means that they can only seek compensation before an arbitration tribunal.
Once the contract is signed, this clause prevents the employee from turning to ordinary justice.
The platform asked San Francisco federal judge James Donato to dismiss the claims of the five former bluebirds and force them to go through individual arbitration.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule collectively on Twitter’s possible breaches of the law before referring them to arbitration.
“If the court opts for arbitration, we are prepared to file hundreds, if not thousands, of individual claims to ensure that employees receive their due,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan.
On Monday, Californian lawyer Lisa Bloom said at a press conference that she was going to seek arbitration for several of her former social network clients.
“And we’re going to continue to file these demands, one by one, bombarding Twitter,” she said.
“Ordinarily, arbitration clauses are considered to be favorable to the employer and a means of reducing costs,” describes Eric Goldman, professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law.
“But because arbitration puts those costs on Twitter, it creates an opportunity to dramatically increase the bill in the event of mass arbitrations,” he argues.
“This puts Twitter in a worse situation than if it had not requested arbitration,” insists the academic.
In the event of resistance from the social network, the farandole of individual procedures “could take years”, he warns.
“The collective aspect creates an incentive for the employer to find a “global” amicable agreement, argues Risa Lieberwitz, professor of labor law at Cornell University, “rather than going through each arbitration request individually. “.
Eric Goldman recalls that Twitter is already in a bad financial situation, burdened with 13 billion in debt by the takeover and deprived of a considerable proportion of its turnover by the withdrawal of many advertisers.
Elon Musk “thinks he’s above the law, that he can do what he wants,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, who also defends former Tesla employees.
But “we have laws in this country that protect employees. And even the richest man in the world can’t ignore the law.”
© 2022 AFP