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The moral impact of ignoring applicable employment laws

Jo Martin, UK Employment Partner - Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

If money can buy you out of having to observe employment law, does the moral compass of your funders become the real source of justice? The US and UK legal systems are very different, but in both territories it appears that the moves Twitter’s new owner has made are going to incur legal action.

In the UK, if a sufficient number of employees are intended to be dismissed within a set period of time, then “collective consultation” has to happen first, including alerting the Government to the planned changes, as well as postponing those terminations for a minimum period. It sounds as if Twitter in the UK have asked the staff to elect representatives, however, suggesting that a consultation process will happen.

Given Musk’s publicly-expressed certainty on the need for lay-offs, and reports that affected UK employees have already been shut out of email accounts and the office, the exits seem to be a foregone conclusion – and thus likely to be found unfair, in the eyes of an employment tribunal, as the consultation will be seen as a meaningless process.

That said, Musk appears to be paying severance in excess of likely legal awards, at least in the US, so may be planning simply to act first, and pay fines and compensation later. With the P&O Ferries mass sackings last summer, ultimately the legal cost of sacking its 800 UK staff and paying each a severance sum greater than that which they could achieve in a tribunal, and replacing them with agency staff, appeared to have worked out, at least financially.

There was a notable absence of any direct Government intervention, despite the failure to inform the Government in advance potentially incurring criminal sanctions. The same assessment will arise in respect of Musk’s UK process, if that early-warning form was not filed.

Whether or not “ordinary punters” would choose to book travel with P&O, however, remains to be seen, and the boycotts following the press coverage of the matter would suggest not. Similarly, advertisers have been cutting ties with Twitter in their droves, suggesting that the moral impact of ignoring applicable employment laws could, in fact, be more powerful and ultimately more punitive than the legal redress available.

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