With thousands of employees reportedly declining Elon Musk’s ultimatum this week to commit to a new “hardcore” culture or opt out, both outgoing and remaining employees are left with one big question: What happens now?
People who thought they made acquisitions are wondering if Musk will try to call them back to work. Workers who have been laid off have no idea what kind of severance pay they will get or if it will ever show up. Those who have been asked to stay have no idea what Musk intends to do with them or the company.
According to a former employee, Musk spent Thursday meeting with engineers to get them to stay while “ruffians” from outside the company — a mix of employees from Musk’s other companies and various yes-men in the multi-billionaire’s orbit – nominally less important segments of the company met with them. (Former and outgoing Twitter employees agreed to speak for this article on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from Musk.)
In what the ex-employee dubbed the Kaiser-has-no-clothes situation, the only argument anyone could make for why employees should trust Musk’s leadership seemed his past business successes and the possibility that people who stay close, could get rich.
But the company hasn’t offered any specific compensation arrangements, the former employee continued, nor has Musk offered a broader plan or strategic vision.
The platform’s trajectory appears to change every few days under Musk’s leadership. Efforts to streamline how the platform’s user verification system works have stalled, and a shift toward premium subscriptions has left the platform’s user base wondering what a pay-to-play schedule would actually look like. Some have speculated that Musk aims to make Twitter more accessible to pornography.
In a Twitter farewell thread, Peter Clowes — whose LinkedIn page still lists him as the company’s lead software engineer — cited Musk’s lack of a clear game plan as a motive for his own exit from the company.
“There was no vision shared with us,” Clowes wrote. “Not a 5-year plan like Tesla. Nothing more than what everyone can see on Twitter. It’s reportedly coming for those who stayed, but the request was blind faith and required the settlement offer to be signed before it was seen. Pure loyalty test.”
Severance pay plays an important role in questions employees and ex-employees have about their future and that of the company.
“It’s still unclear what the actual severance pay will be for everyone at all stages of the layoff,” said a former product designer whose role was eliminated on November 4. “My group… has been fired for 2 weeks now with no severance information.”
An email sent by Twitter’s HR department on Nov. 4, a copy of which The Times checked, said laid-off employees would receive details of their severance offer within a week.
That was more than two weeks ago. Nevertheless, say the employees, nothing came.
The designer is now part of Twitter’s “non-active” workforce — technically an employee until February and gets paid in the meantime, but does no actual work. The settlement is set to kick in after that limbo ends, according to company emails verified by The Times, but it’s not clear what that will look like.
Musk has repeatedly claimed that laid-off employees will receive three months’ severance pay: once in a row tweet in which he described this plan as “50% more than required by law”, and again in the email he sent to employees giving them the ultimatum.
But “zero information” was offered as to what the dispensation process will be, the former designer said via email, and nothing “official” to sign. It’s not even clear what Musk means by three months’ severance pay: “3 months salary? 3 months severance pay? Does [Musk] Do you consider salary and severance pay to be the same?”
“The lack of proper preparation and communication for the layoffs is creating frustration among people,” said the outgoing designer. “Since we’re technically still employed … we have to be very careful with this frustration as we don’t want to be fired for good cause yet, which would result in lost pay until the separation date and also lost severance pay.”
A FAQ attached to the November 4 HR email, which The Times also reviewed, said the severance pay would be sent out about 45 days after the end of the employees’ time off. But this could be complicated by the recent ones reports by Insider’s Kali Hays that Twitter’s entire payroll department has resigned (although some accountants remain).
Another former employee confirmed that there were no severance packages or information about the dismissed employees’ health insurance. According to the former designer, employees were given a single email address to submit questions about the firing process, but it seems no one is responding.
Before Musk took over, Twitter’s severance package included at least two months’ salary plus a pro-rated performance bonus and expanded work visa support, the product designer said.
“Most of us have lawyers as we assume the severance pay doesn’t come with earlier times [pre-Musk] Agreements,” said the designer. If Twitter pretends that the off-time payment is actually severance pay, “we are preparing a possible class action lawsuit involving affected Tweeps,” aka Twitter employees.
Former employees considering legal action against Musk have reportedly contacted three law firms.
“We are all waiting for the severance details to legally unfold,” the designer said, but the attorneys who were consulted “believe we have a strong claim and that we are entitled to the original severance payment (2 months salary + 3 months vesting) . /bonus and visa protection).”
Musk fired nearly 50% of the company in early November and promised the layoffs two to three months’ severance pay. He was almost immediately sued by former employees who alleged Musk violated federal and state labor laws over mass layoffs.
Laura Reathaford, a California employment attorney at Lathrop GPM, said Musk’s email urging employees to commit to a “hardcore” work culture effectively constitutes a termination for those unwilling to stay .
“He made an offer to quit and take three months’ severance pay,” Reathaford said. “If someone has accepted that offer, it seems like it could be enforced.”
Musk could change his mind and decide not to fire everyone who hasn’t signed up for the new Twitter or not offer severance, but employees don’t have to play by his rules. “In any contract negotiation, either party can change their mind and the other side can decide if they want to continue negotiations,” Reathaford said.
According to Lloyd Greif, the chief executive officer of investment bank Greif & Co., employees could pursue Musk in two ways: breach of contract or what has been termed “damaging trust.” The first is based on the fact that Musk’s email is effectively a verbal contract. even if it was not a formal written contract signed by both parties. The second can be pursued when one party relies on a promise made by another party and suffers damage or loss as a result. Workers in this case rely on the promise of three months’ severance pay while they are unemployed and looking for a new job.
“I think it’s an open case,” Griffin said. “The only thing that could prevent this is bankruptcy” – if Musk were to file for bankruptcy on Twitter, that would probably be the only way to pay employees their severance pay.
Lawyers have suggested that some of the fired employees could also successfully bring discrimination claims against Musk, the former designer said, particularly older employees, those on maternity leave, or those affected because of their race or gender.
The current chaos on Twitter, while perhaps surprising in its scale and speed, does not come entirely without warning. Months of acquisition drama ensued, in which the company’s fortunes seemed to swing back and forth every few weeks.
Musk ended his control of the platform on Oct. 28 after trying to back out of a takeover deal he initiated in April. Since then, Twitter’s ranks have been reeling from uncertainty and fear over the fate of their own jobs and a platform in which many employees seem genuinely emotionally invested.
A growing number of managers and employees had resigned or been fired in recent weeks for criticizing or speaking out against Musk on public or allegedly internal channels until Musk inaugurated the new “hardcore” culture this week.
“There was no retention schedule for those who stayed,” Clowes, the former software engineer, wrote in his farewell tweet thread. “No clear benefit to weathering the storm on the horizon. Just ‘trust us’ style verbal promises.”
“But,” he added, “the tweeps were overall suspicious after the 7-month acquisition drama.”
Twitter no longer has a formal communications team and could not be reached for comment.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.