Twitter employees who resigned may be entitled to damages

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

Keeping his foot on the gas, the platform’s new CEO Elon Musk issued an ultimatum via email to remaining employees: to either commit to an “extremely hardcore” environment going forward or accept a severance package.

Twitter is teetering.

 

With over 50% of Twitter employees terminated in recent weeks, the social media juggernaut has scaled down to a lean operation including its Canadian contingent of employees.

 

Keeping his foot on the gas, the platform’s new CEO Elon Musk issued an ultimatum via email to remaining employees: to either commit to an “extremely hardcore” environment going forward or accept a severance package.

 

The email posing the ultimatum said, in part, “this will mean working long hours at high intensity.”

 

Employees were given until Thursday at 5 p.m. to respond if they wanted to stay. As of Thursday evening, various news outlets including The Washington Post and New York Times reported speaking with multiple Twitter employees who confirmed large amounts of employee resignations in response to the ultimatum.

 

Since then, much of the public, especially those who use Twitter, have been consumed by how Twitter can still be operational after scaling down the workforce so quickly. But the real question is whether or not the rigid conditions Musk imposed in his ultimatum email to employees were legal.

 

For Canadian employees, the short answer is no.

 

Musk had previously ordered employees back into the office, which was already contentious; particularly so after the employer proclaimed workers could work from anywhere, forever. It was a significant culture shift but surely became a reasonable expectation for Twitter employees to expect. Employees were free to claim a breach of contract then, when forced back to headquarters after setting up to work remotely.

 

Musk’s recent ultimatum email is a double down on his war on the existing Twitter culture and will be met with displeasure here in Canadian courtrooms. For the CEO to mandate “an intense” working environment with “long hours” likely breaches a lot of the employment agreements currently in place at Twitter.

 

Employees are entitled to safe working conditions that often include working predictable hours. If an employer mandates an employee to work more, in most cases, it must pay overtime. It also can’t mandate overtime if an employee typically only works an eight-hour shift.

 

To suddenly convert a standard eight-hour shift to something that might be much longer, like 10 or 12 hours, is a fundamental change to a person’s employment and may be a constructive dismissal giving rise to wrongful dismissal damages.

 

Also, from what I understand, Twitter employees have unlimited PTO or “personal time off” days. Musk’s ultimatum email erased that perk in one fell swoop.

 

If you were forced to resign your employment as a result of an ultimatum to work much harder and much longer hours, you may be entitled to wrongful dismissal damages.

 

For those who opted to take a severance package, have your package reviewed. Often these packages may not in fact represent an employee’s true losses. If you were asked to take a package or agree to terms that were unreasonable, you too may be entitled to more.

 

Added to this is how hard it will be to find comparable employment. Courts factor this in when making court awards. As many tech companies are shedding employees by the hundreds, the reemployment landscape is bleak.

 

Your entitlements on termination can include unpaid bonus for the current fiscal year to the date of termination, and reasonable notice which usually includes salary, bonus, profit share, the vesting of some options as well benefits over the period of time it would take you to find a new job.

 

The fact is, it is not unusual for employers at the outset of a recession to call upon their workplace to recommit, especially if rounds of layoffs have occurred.

 

However, commanding employees to materially change the way they work and how long they work is likely not going to be defensible in court.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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