Elon Musk told Twitter employees via email that they would need to commit to working ‘long hours at high intensity’ or ‘leave’ as part of his dramatic vision for Twitter 2.0.
In the company-wide email, Musk said that his revamped workforce would need to be ‘extremely hardcore’, and if they didn’t agree to the changes, their employment would end with three months of severance pay.
Earlier this month, he also made the controversial decision to dismiss key Twitter executives and almost 50% of full-time staff.
While HR rules differ in the US, Elon Musk’s management style would create huge legal headaches for UK employers. And here’s how…
1. Forced resignation could lead to constructive dismissal claims
By giving employees an ultimatum to accept new working conditions or leave, Musk is essentially forcing his staff to resign unless they accept his new terms.
Here in the UK, this would give employees grounds to claim for constructive dismissal. Employees can claim for constructive dismissal if they feel they have been forced to resign, like if they had to work in extreme or unmanageable conditions.
Plus, if you want to change the terms of a contract, like working hours, you need to first:
- check the contract has a flexibility clause – this gives employers a right to make ‘reasonable changes’ to some employment conditions
- get consent from the employee or their union representative after a period of consultation
- follow a fair and full dismissal process (like providing a valid reason, notice, and a right to appeal)
- give the employee notice (statutory or the notice period in their contract, whatever’s longest)
- wait until the dismissal and rehiring process is complete before making changes to employment conditions
2. Failure to consider vulnerable workers
Whilst Musk may have the power to change working hours or conditions, he fails to consider the impact this may have on vulnerable workers. For example, staff with childcare responsibilities may not be able to commit to working long hours.
It will likely seem ‘unreasonable’ in the eyes of the law to make a drastic change to working conditions. And if someone has to leave their job because their employer is forcing them to accept ‘unreasonable changes to their work’, they may be able to make a constructive dismissal claim.
Likewise, for staff who have health conditions, working long hours might go against medical advice. So, to dismiss them for not agreeing to longer hours could also result in disability discrimination claims.
3. Lack of communication
On Thursday 3rd November, Twitter employees received an email telling them there would be ‘mass layoffs’ announced the following day. They then had to wait to find out whether their job was safe or not.
This serious lack of communication goes against HR best practices completely. The unsuspecting email left Twitter employees clueless about their future. Many even reported that they didn’t hear the news from Musk or their manager. They just woke up to find themselves locked out of their company email accounts.
In a case of dismissal, communication is vital. Before terminating employment, employers should first complete a full and fair consultation process with employees and employee representatives.
Dismissal should be a final resort and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the employee. Ideally, the employee should find out in a private meeting. And this should come after a full and fair procedure.
Whilst communicating personally is more difficult when carrying out mass redundancies, UK employers would also need to be able to justify a fair reason and prove they had followed all the right steps. If they can’t do this, there would be huge legal consequences.
4. Making mass layoffs without the required notice period
In the UK, ‘collective redundancy’ rules would apply if terminating 20 or more employees’ jobs by reason of redundancy.
Which means if you’re making 20 or more workers redundant, you would need to carry out consultations in advance and provide written notice. This consultation period would be 30 days for up to 100 workers and 45 days for over 100 workers.
A group of former Twitter employees have since sued Elon Musk on the grounds that he failed to give the appropriate legal notice period. This is according to US law.
In the UK, failing to follow collective redundancy rules would lead to legal claims and fines.
5. The likelihood of staff burnout
Putting pressure on staff to be ‘hardcore’ and work intense hours is more likely to lead to burnout before success.
Whilst some employees may enjoy working under pressure, it’s not realistic to expect all staff to be at ‘peak performance’ every day.
Getting the best out of employees means supporting their wellbeing. If staff are exhausting themselves by working long hours, they’re likely to be less productive over time. It’s important to constantly review an employee’s workload and the deadlines being set to make sure they’re realistic.
An overworked and stressed employee is far more at risk of making mistakes and having mental and physical health issues. Eventually, they may even leave the job. If your goal is to retain staff, it’s important to make sure their wellbeing comes first.
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When the future of your company is on the line, you may have to make difficult decisions. But in the pursuit of success, don’t forget the path is littered with legal pitfalls – or your journey could be cut short…
That’s where your HR and health & safety experts come in. They’ll guide you on the safest path to success, whilst helping you avoid traps along the way.
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