Twitter “Mass Sackings” – Are They Legal in the UK?

November 8, 2022

By Owen John

After Elon Musk controversially sacked half of Twitter’s staff, we ask how employers can legally make staff redundant.

On 4 November, thousands of employees at Twitter were dismissed with immediate effect.  They were told that they were being made redundant via email and blocked from getting into their offices and using company computers straight away. Musk claimed he had no choice and the mass sackings were necessary to make sure the company survives. Unsurprisingly, the decision has received a lot of backlash, so this month, our employment law team has been considering collective redundancies and how employers can lay off their staff fairly and in line with the law.

Can employers sack a big group of their employees in one go?

If a business is struggling, it may have no choice but to make redundancies.  Whenever an employer is considering making 20 or more employees redundant within a 3-month period, this triggers rules on “collective consultation” in the UK. This means that employers have a strict set of rules to follow in order to avoid Employment Tribunal claims or even criminal offences.

Twitter seems to be following these rules with its UK employees so far, as it hasn’t yet dismissed them (unlike its employees in the US and around the world) but has started to consult with them on doing so.

So, how can employers legally make staff redundant?

  • The law says that employers need to start a collective consultation with their staff when they think a large group of staff will have to be laid off. This will be done through the employees’ trade union representatives or, if there’s no trade union, employees can pick their own representatives to act for them.
  • The employer should then keep those representatives informed and consult them. For example, the representatives will need to be told how many staff may be laid off, how the employer will choose which staff will be made redundant, the process the employer will follow, whether there’s any way it can avoid making staff redundant, and why this is happening in the first place.
  • This duty to discuss the redundancies with staff applies to everyone that could be affected, and not just those actually facing redundancy. This covers all staff whose roles could be impacted in any way by the proposed redundancies.
  • The rules also include certain timescales that need to be followed. An employer can usually not dismiss anyone unless it has consulted with staff for at least 30 to 45 days, depending on how many employees are being dismissed.
  • Employers will also need to notify the UK Government if they are planning 20 or more redundancies. Failing to do this can be a criminal offence.

An employer could be fined or even be carrying out a criminal offence if it doesn’t follow the collective consultation rules.

If you need further information on redundancies and company restructuring, please register for our free webinar on 24 November, or get in touch with Owen John on ojohn@darwingray.com / 02920 829 118 for a free initial chat to see how we can help you.

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