The story of the ‘US boss’ who fired 900 employees at the same time during a Zoom call has been widely reported in the press and attracted a lot of attention. The CEO of the company, which employs thousands of people, reportedly brought together 900 employees during a short Zoom call lasting only a few minutes and told them all that they were all being let go due to “changes in the market”.
Employment law in the US is very different to that in the UK and the legal risks would be much greater if any UK employer was to dismiss employees in this way and on such a mass scale. Not only would many employers battle with moral considerations such as terminating employment so close to Christmas, giving no notice or warning and the impersonal nature of a Zoom call to deliver the message but it also almost certainly wouldn’t be as simple as holding one short virtual meeting to terminate employment.
In contrast to the US, UK employers must have a potentially fair reason to dismiss an employee, such as conduct, capability or redundancy. The employer also has to follow a fair procedure which, in a nutshell, involves producing evidence and holding at least one formal meeting with the employee to allow them to put their case or objections forward to be considered before any decision is made. Employees also have the right to appeal the decision which would usually be heard by somebody who has not previously been involved in the matter, making the process impartial and transparent. America, on the other hand, allows employment to be terminated ‘at will’, i.e. without any notice or reason as long as it is not discriminatory.
Discriminatory dismissals are of course also unlawful in the UK and employers should be very clear as to the reason why they are letting an employee go to minimise the chance of an employee successfully arguing the real reason for termination was based on a protected characteristic, such as race, age or disability.
While it might be unlikely that many of the employees dismissed by the company in America will have any employment claims to bring, the same can’t be said if this was done in the UK and so employers should be very alert to our unfair dismissal and equality laws in the event that they wish to terminate employment relationships. If they don’t they could find themselves on the receiving end of costly unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and discrimination claims!
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