After thousands of employees reportedly rejected Elon Musk’s ultimatum this week to embrace a new “hardcore” culture or leave, and employees who left and those who stayed were left with one big question: What now?
People who thought they were foreclosed on are wondering if Musk will try to call them to work. Laid-off workers don’t know what severance pay they are getting or if it will ever come. Those urged to stay have no idea what Musk’s plan is for them or the company.
According to one former employee, Musk held a meeting with engineers on Thursday to try to encourage them to stay, while “scumbags” from outside the company — a mix of employees pulled from Musk’s other businesses and various insiders in the multibillionaire’s orbit — met with nominally less important segments of the company. (Former and retired Twitter employees agreed to speak on condition of anonymity for this article out of fear of retaliation from Musk.)
In a situation described by a former employee as an “emperor without clothes,” the only argument anyone could make as to why employees should trust Musk’s leadership was his past business success as well as the possibility that people who stick around can get rich.
However, the company did not offer any specific compensation agreements, the former employee continued, and Musk did not offer a larger plan or strategic vision.
The platform’s trajectory seems to change every few days under Musk’s leadership. Efforts to adjust how the platform’s user verification system works have been wobbly, and the pivot to premium subscriptions has left platform users wondering what the pay-to-play schedule will actually look like. Some have pondered that Musk is committed to making Twitter more porn-friendly.
In a farewell Twitter thread, Peter Close, whose LinkedIn page still identifies him as a senior software engineer at the company, cited Musk’s lack of a clear game plan as the reason for his departure from the company.
“There was no vision with us,” Clowes said wrote. “There is no 5-year plan like Tesla. Nothing more than what anyone can see on Twitter. It’s supposedly coming for those who stayed, but the request was blind faith and required signing an opt-out offer before seeing it. A pure test of loyalty.”
Severance pay plays an important role in the questions of employees and former employees about their future and the future of the company.
“It’s still unclear what the actual severance will be for anyone and everyone at all stages of layoffs,” said one former product designer whose position was cut Nov. 4. “My group… was laid off for 2 weeks. already without information about the break.”
An email sent by Twitter’s human resources department on Nov. 4, a copy of which The Times has reviewed, said the laid-off employees would receive details of their layoff offer within a week.
That was over two weeks ago. So far, say employees, nothing has arrived.
The designer is now part of Twitter’s “inactive” workforce — he’s technically still an employee until February, and in the meantime he’s getting paid but not actually doing any work. According to company emails seen by The Times, sera financing is set to begin once limbo ends, but it’s unclear what that will look like.
Musk has repeatedly stated that laid-off employees will receive three months of severance pay: once a tweet in which he described the plan as “50% more than required by law,” and again in an email he sent to employees offering them an ultimatum.
However, there was “zero information” offered about what the issuance process would look like, the former designer said via email, and nothing “official” to sign off on. It is not even clear what Musk means by three months of layoff: “Salary for 3 months? 3 months out? does [Musk] consider salary and severance pay the same thing?”
“The lack of proper preparation and communication before layoffs creates frustration in people,” said the outgoing designer. “Since we’re technically still working … we have to handle this frustration with great care because we want to prevent termination for cause that would result in lost wages up to the date of separation as well as lost severance pay.”
Frequently asked questions attached to a Nov. 4 HR email that The Times also reviewed, said that severance pay will be sent approximately 45 days after employees’ non-working periods end. However, this can be complicated by the recent reports from insider Callie Hayes that Twitter’s entire payroll department has quit (although some accountants have stayed).
Another former employee confirmed that severance packages had not yet been issued, and there was no information about the health insurance coverage of the laid-off employees. According to the ex-designer, employees were given a single email address to send questions about the layoff process, but no one seems to be responding to it.
Before Musk took over, Twitter’s severance package included a minimum of two months’ salary plus a pro-rated performance bonus and enhanced support for work visas, the product designer said.
“Most of us have lawyers because we expect layoffs not to be tracked early [pre-Musk] agreements,” said the designer. When Twitter pretends that the overtime pay is actually severance, “we are preparing a potential class action lawsuit with the affected Tweeps,” also known as Twitter employees.
Former employees who are considering a lawsuit against Musk have reportedly approached three law firms.
“We’re all waiting for the details of the rift to be revealed legally,” the designer said, but lawyers consulted “believe that we have a serious claim and that we should get an initial dismissal [2 months salary + 3 months vesting/bonus and visa coverage].”
In early November Musk fired almost 50% of the company, promising two to three months of layoff to those who are let go. He was sued almost immediately by former employees who claimed Musk violated federal and state labor laws over the mass layoffs.
Laura Ritaford, a California employment lawyer with Lathrop GPM, said Musk’s email urging employees to adopt a “hard-nosed” work culture is effectively a dismissal of those who don’t want to stay.
“He offered to resign and take three months off,” Ritaford said. “If someone has accepted that offer, it seems like it can be done.”
Musk may change his mind and decide not to fire anyone who hasn’t signed up for the new Twitter, or not offer severance pay, but employees don’t have to play by his rules. “In any contract negotiation, either side can change their mind and the other side can decide if they want to continue negotiations,” Ritaford said.
According to Lloyd Greif, chief executive of investment bank Greif & Co, employees can go after Musk in two ways: breach of contract or something called “pernicious dependence.” The first is based on Musk’s email actually being a verbal contract, even though it wasn’t a formal written contract signed by both parties. The second may be engaged when a party relies on a promise made by another party and suffers damage or loss as a result. In this case, employees rely on the promise of three months of severance pay while they are unemployed and looking for a new job.
“I think it’s an open case,” Greif said. “The only thing that could prevent this is bankruptcy” — if Musk filed for bankruptcy, that would likely be the only way he could get rid of paying employees their vacation days.
Lawyers have speculated that some of the employees who were fired could also successfully bring discrimination cases against Musk, the ex-designer said, particularly older employees, those on parental leave, or those affected by their race. or gender.
The current chaos on Twitter, while perhaps surprising in its scope and speed, does not come without warning. It follows a months-long acquisition drama in which the company’s fortunes seemed to swing back and forth every few weeks.
Musk ended control of the platform on October 28 after trying to back out of an acquisition deal he initiated in April. Since then, Twitter’s ranks have been rocked by uncertainty and fear over the fate of their own jobs and a platform in which many employees appear to have become genuinely emotionally invested.
Over the past few weeks, more and more executives and employees have resigned or been fired for criticizing or speaking out against Musk in public or reportedly internal channels, until Musk issued an edict this week on a “hardcore” new culture.
“There was no retention plan for those who remained,” Clowes, a former software engineer, wrote in his farewell tweet. “There is no obvious upside to weathering the storm on the horizon. Just “trust us” style verbal promises.
“But,” he added, “Tweets were generally incredulous after 7 months of acquisition drama.”
Twitter no longer has an official communications team and could not be reached for comment.