As Elon Musk continues his rapid and sweeping changes on Twitter – including mass layoffs and requiring remaining employees to commit to “long hours” or leave – lawyers and experts in Jobs said his demands could open the billionaire and his business to a number of legal issues. .
In a company-wide ultimatum sent Wednesday morning, Twitter gave employees a 5 p.m. deadline on Thursday to decide whether they want to stay, demanding that they commit to working “long hours at high intensity. ” or receive “three months of severance pay”, if they did. does not agree to the terms or support its vision of “Twitter 2.0”.
It was the latest of a number of big changes announced by Musk since taking over Twitter on October 28.
Musk has already fired key Twitter executives, laid off half of Twitter’s 7,500-person payroll and cut the number of contractors working with the company without notice. This week, he also fired senior Twitter engineers after they criticized him in public or on the company’s internal Slack channels.
Twitter did not immediately respond to request for comment on possible legal concerns.
Musk defended his decision-making in posts on Twitter, saying of the widespread layoffs, “unfortunately, there is no other choice when the company is losing over $4 million a day” and the company offered a severance package that is “50% more than legally required.
Some employment experts said the drastic changes could raise issues with state and federal labor laws. But they also warned that with many details still unknown, the full scope of the legal consequences is not yet clear.
“We are inundated with requests from Twitter employees and are in the process of pursuing various legal actions,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney who sued Twitter for violating the WARN Act, told NBC News. The lawsuit, filed earlier this month, alleges the social media company broke the law, which requires 60 days notice of mass layoffs, and also that Twitter reneged on an agreement that gave employees the same severance packages and benefits they previously received. . Twitter has yet to respond to the lawsuit, according to court documents.
Liss-Riordan previously sued Tesla for layoffs in June. A Texas judge in the Tesla case recently said workers should instead pursue their claims through closed-door arbitration.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep up with the new legal issues he brings up hour by hour,” Liss-Riordan said of Musk’s rapid changes on Twitter.
But Rafael Nendel-Flores, a member of the Clark Hill law firm in California, said it was “difficult to conclude that Twitter definitely violated the WARN Act because they may have done things to mitigate it.” .
Nendel-Flores said the only remedies available under the WARN Act are 60 days of pay and benefits, and if an employee ends up getting those 60 days of pay and benefits, the situation could be considered ” kind of like no harm, no fault”. .”
But there could be other legal issues for Twitter, including under laws that protect against discrimination, Liss-Riordan and Nendel-Flores said.
Liss-Riordan said she also responded to calls from others concerned about discrimination against protected categories of employees such as women, people of color and people with disabilities.
Regarding Musk’s email giving people a 5 p.m. deadline on Thursday to stay on or leave Twitter, she said there may be employees who are “in a very precarious legal position.”
“There are people who are on disability leave or maybe going out on disability leave, there are pregnant workers. There are all kinds of questions about how people are supposed to react to this,” she said. “We’re answering questions and giving advice now that people are trying to make a decision on what to do here.”
Nendel-Flores said the order could also raise concerns about age discrimination.
“If you are laying off two or more people over the age of 40, certain disclosures must be provided to them so that they can overturn their claims of age discrimination under federal law and we don’t know if Neither did Twitter,” he said. “The logic is that someone over 40 can make an informed decision whether or not to sign the severance agreement.”
“When you lay off thousands of people, you’re definitely going to have a significant number of people over 40,” he said, but added that more details are needed to be sure.
Some employees might argue that Musk and the company retaliated against them for the critical comments they made about him.
“There are several laws that protect your employees if they engage in what’s called a protected activity,” Nendel-Flores said.
“This essentially prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about matters related to public policy, i.e. laws or regulations,” he said. “So the dividing line is, if someone just says, ‘I don’t like Elon Musk, and I think it sucks that he took over my business,’ that’s probably not protected. But if someone says, ‘I think what Elon Musk is doing is illegal or discriminatory’ and Elon and Twitter firing these people creates potential problems.”
“If Twitter fires someone for saying that, that’s problematic, and it could lead to retaliatory complaints,” he said.
But, as the full details of Twitter’s actions still remain unclear, Nendel-Flores said “the devil is in the details” as to what legal issues, if any, the company may face.
Twitter employees who sue in California could benefit from “employee-friendly protections” in that state, Nendel-Flores said.
“So there are a lot of issues that can come up with the things he does and sometimes employers don’t even realize they’re somehow intervening in those issues,” he said.
California labor laws are much more robust than, say, Texas, where Musk moved Tesla’s headquarters.
“It’s a very different place” with less employee protections at the state level, he said, adding that in California “it’s really a different universe here from a work standpoint and employment”.
Regarding requiring employees to work longer hours, Daniela Urban, executive director of the Center for Workers’ Rights in California, said that, particularly for salaried employees, “companies are allowed to increase their workload” and “there are no universal legal protections”. for an increased workload. »
Urban said that as long as employers pay their employees properly, uphold safe working conditions, and don’t discriminate against their workers, “the determination of what and how they do their job is largely left to the employer.”
“There are far fewer protections for how work can change while still being employed,” she said. “Workloads can change and even tasks can change in the absence of a collective agreement or any other type of contract.”
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