Twitter move to cull staff via email may be illegal, says expert

Firm must inform Government and allow 30 days’ consultation, according to employment lawyer

Twitter’s apparent move to cut off workplace access to its Irish staff as it began to lay off staff on Friday would be unprecedented and could potentially be in breach of employment law, an expert has said.

The social media giant is expected to cut more than 50 per cent of its 500 Irish-based staff at its Cumberland Place office in Dublin. Sources described the situation inside the Irish arm of the company as “carnage”, with lay-offs “random and indiscriminate”.

Staff here are said to have found their workplace access had been cut off on Friday morning as new owner Elon Musk began drastic cuts to the company’s global workforce. The company began lay-offs among Twitter’s 7,500-strong workforce on Friday, according to a companywide email.

Dublin-based employment lawyer Richard Grogan said such moves, if true, would contravene Irish employment law.

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“The position on it is, if you are making a number of people redundant, like half your workforce, and you have 500, then in those circumstances you have to go through the collective redundancy legislation,” he told The Irish Times.

“That means the Minister must be notified. Then there is the consultation with staff for a period of 30 days before anybody is made redundant. You can’t just go sending people emails saying ‘you’re redundant’,” he said.

The collective redundancy legislation may not have been complied with. If that’s the case, it could open the door for unfair dismissal claims, he said.

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Mr Grogan said affected staff would have recourse to take the company to the Workplace Relations Commission.

“Stopping people having access to offices and systems — that equally opens the door to possible unfair dismissals claims.

“This is quite serious. The idea that you can simply let people go by way of an email is contrary to Irish employment law. It sends out the wrong message, particularly to the SME sector, that they can do this, and then end up with problems.”

In terms of whether there is any precedent, Mr Grogan said: “We have seen cases where an entire company is told their jobs are at risk, but the selection process takes place after the process, not before.

“I’ve never seen a situation where a company has sent out emails to some staff saying they are redundant, and to others they are not, at the start of a process.”

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was asked whether Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was informed of the move, but it did not return the query.

Loughlin Deegan, a partner in the employment law team at Byrne Wallace, agreed with Mr Grogan that employers have to comply with certain legal obligations before making people redundant.

He said the extent of the obligations vary with the size of the employer and the number of redundancies. There are some obligations that apply to all redundancies.

An employer must act fairly in respect of the redundancy, including by having a genuine redundancy situation and – if there are choices to be made about who will be selected for redundancy – to have a fair process for selecting who stays and who goes.

“There are greater obligations in case of a collective redundancy,” he said. “For a big employer like Twitter, the collective redundancy obligations kick in if the employer proposes to make more than 30 people redundant within a 30-day period.

“The collective redundancy obligations are to inform the employees that redundancies are proposed; and to consult with the employees’ representatives with a view to trying to avoid redundancies.

“The information and consultation period is 30 days. A company that decides to effect a collective redundancy without complying with the information and consultation requirements is breaking the law.”

In terms of the consequences if a company does not comply with the rules, he said: “It is a criminal offence to effect a collective redundancy without giving the Minister and the employees 30 days’ notice.

“The penalty for not giving the Minister adequate notice is a fine of up to €250,000. The penalty for not giving the employees adequate notice is a fine of up to €5,000.

“Separately to criminal prosecution, if the employees did not receive adequate notification and consultation the employee can take individual claims to the Workplace Relations Commission and can be awarded up to four week’s pay each.

“Any employee who believes that they have been unfairly selected for redundancy can be awarded up to two years’ pay by the Workplace Relations Commission.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter