Severance for laid-off workers is Musk's latest mess at Twitter

When Elon Musk laid off nearly half of Twitter employees, he claimed they’d been offered three months of severance. Sixty days later, workers were left wondering what happened to that claim, Bloomberg reported Thursday, and that has led to more legal action against Twitter. Severance agreements might be forthcoming for workers willing to sign away their right to take legal action, Fortune reported, but information definitely had not come in a timely manner.

The 60-day threshold is significant because Twitter was required to keep paying its California workers for that time period. Now that it’s run out, they’re wondering about that last month of severance and about access to continuing health coverage through COBRA.

“No one has gotten any severance pay,” labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan, who represents hundreds of former Twitter workers, told Bloomberg.

RELATED STORY: Elon Musk fires more Twitter engineers on Thanksgiving eve, continues embracing the far right

“We don’t know what Elon Musk is doing—we expected that those severance agreements would have been sent out by now, because a lot of people had their last official day,” Liss-Riordan said. “We’re wondering what he’s planning to do, but meanwhile, we’re pushing forward with our legal actions.”

Liss-Riordan already had 100 arbitration claims pending and added another 100 on Thursday—the day after the 60 days was up. That’s in addition to class-action suits and labor board complaints. Liss-Riordan’s legal actions against Twitter include allegations that Musk laid off more women than men. In a December statement, she said, “The conduct of Twitter since Musk took over is incredibly egregious, and we will pursue every avenue to protect workers and extract from Twitter the compensation that is due to them.”

Twitter is trying to get the actions thrown out of court one way or another, and in particular, wants to force workers into the kind of private arbitration that traditionally favors companies. In December, Liss-Riordan got a small early win against Twitter when a federal judge in San Francisco ordered Twitter to notify laid-off workers about the class action lawsuit against the company. U.S. District Judge James Donato is scheduled to hold a hearing this month on Twitter’s attempt to send the case to private arbitration.

The laid-off Twitter workers have the right lawyer on their case. Shannon Liss-Riordan has won hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments for the workers she has represented, from Starbucks baristas to American Airlines skycaps to Instacart drivers. She has focused in particular on tipped workers and workers misclassified as independent contractors, with her misclassification lawsuits frequently pitting her against large app companies like Uber. Software engineers might not have been her primary focus, but she is very familiar with tech-oriented companies, and she appears to be hitting Twitter from every legal angle.

But by not sending out severance information before the time was up, Elon Musk is either putting on a display of his power over his former workers’ lives or is just that much of a hot mess. And with Musk, it could absolutely be either. Or both. He’s fired people for disagreeing with him. He’s fired people on Thanksgiving eve. Those are power plays founded on pure nastiness. On the hot mess side, Twitter is being sued by a landlord for not paying rent. The European Union has threatened Musk with sanctions over his banning of a number of journalists from Twitter. And, of course, there’s the open question of whether Twitter has the remaining staff it needs to do things like send out and execute severance agreements. This is a company where people are bringing toilet paper to work following cuts to janitorial staff.

Meanwhile, Musk has lost $200 billion in net worth, including $13 billion in the opening days of 2023, as Tesla stock prices have tumbled. He’s said he’ll step down as head of Twitter and find a new CEO, but that hasn’t materialized yet. 


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