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Elon Musk begins mass Twitter layoffs via email

New Twitter owner Elon Musk has begun the process of cutting the company’s workforce in half, but is already facing a legal backlash for allegedly violating US labour laws

Twitter is facing a class action lawsuit from former employees who say they were sacked without being properly notified, as new owner Elon Musk seeks to cut up to half the company’s global workforce.

The mass layoff of around 3,700 employees comes days after the billionaire bought Twitter for $44bn, but according to the lawsuit – filed with a US federal court in San Francisco on behalf of five employees so far – the company has failed to comply with the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires 60 days’ notice for mass sackings at large employers.

Musk had already fired the board of directors following the finalisation of his takeover, leaving him as “sole director” of the company.

In a company-wide memo shared on 3 November, Twitter employees were told they would receive an email on their personal email accounts the next day if their employment was “impacted”, or a notification via their work accounts if it was not.

“In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday. We recognize that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward,” it said, adding that all offices would be closed and all access badges suspended until the process was complete.

“Given the nature of our distributed workforce and our desire to inform impacted individuals as quickly as possible, communications for this process will take place via email.”

However, dozens of staff posted on Twitter that they were already aware of having been fired before any emails arrived, after discovering they had been locked out of their work accounts and laptops.

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This includes Rumman Chowdhury, director of the Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency and Accountability (META) team at Twitter, who posted a screenshot of a failed login attempt to her work account. Kristian Lum, a responsible machine learning (ML) researcher on the META team, also posted that she had been let go.

Computer Weekly contacted Twitter to ask if the META team – which works to operationalise ML ethics at the company – was still in place following the firing of Chowdhury and Lum, but received no response by time of publication.

According to a report in The Verge, many employees have been struggling to unlink their Twitter accounts from their work email addresses – a company-mandated policy that also requires physical keys for two-factor authentication.

Musk’s decision to conduct mass layoffs has also affected Twitter’s UK employees, although it’s currently unclear how many UK staff have been affected.

UTAW condemnation

The United Tech and Allied Workers union (UTAW) – a branch of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) established to represent workers interests, including those in non-IT roles, throughout the tech sector – said: “We strongly condemn the treatment of Twitter’s employees over the past week.

“We’re actively supporting our Twitter members, and welcoming new members from the company looking for support from fellow tech worker trade unionists during this confusing and stressful time.”

Prospect union, which represents specialist technology workers in the UK, also condemned the sackings, comparing it to the sudden firing of 800 workers by P&O Ferries in March 2022.

“Twitter is treating its people appallingly,” said general secretary Mike Clancy. “These are people who have invested their time, effort and enthusiasm in building the platform, which risks being thrown away.

“The government must make clear to Twitter’s new owners that we won’t accept a digital P&O and that no-one is above the law in the UK, including Big Tech barons,” he added. “That must include making sure UK staff’s full employment rights are properly protected.

“We are supporting our members at Twitter and will be working with them to defend them and their livelihoods.”

Computer Weekly contacted Twitter about the lawsuit filed in San Francisco, but received no response by time of publication.

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