OneTrust mass sackings spark wrongful dismissal claim

OnetrustUS privacy giant OneTrust, which recently signed a major deal to be the DMA’s “responsible marketing partner”, has become embroiled in a bitter dispute with scores of former UK staff who are threatening legal action over alleged wrongful dismissal.

The allegations centre on how the company, which recently doubled its value to $2.7bn (£2.2bn), dismissed 100 people – a quarter of its UK workforce – in the space of a week over what it claims was staff “poor performance”.

According to a report from Wired magazine, staff were called into individual internal meetings with HR and a senior manager and dismissed on the spot. Team members say they asked for evidence of their poor performance and received no explanation.

None of them had received prior bad performance reviews, they claim, and they were not given any warning by the company that anything was wrong with the way they were working.

One former staffer told Wired that, as soon as the meeting was over, her work phone, laptop and access to remote working tools were all locked. “I had about 15 minutes to process all of this. And, straight after, I could contact no one,” she added.

It is understood that around 30 employees are now launching legal action, through employment law firm Morrish Solicitors. They claim that the size and speed of the firings, and the cause given about their performance, were unfair, and that the company was trying to avoid a collective redundancy consultation by firing them individually.

If a company is planning to make more than 20 people redundant in under 90 days, it has to enter into a redundancy consultation and has to inform the Government.

Employment best practice dictates that firms should not dismiss an employee for a one-off act of poor performance. In most cases, for a poor performance dismissal to be reasonable, the employer will need to have issued previous warnings, particularly as “incapability” is usually assessed over a period. The ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures recommends that employers give at least two warnings before they dismiss for poor performance.

In March, staff say OneTrust CEO Kabir Barday explained that the company was safeguarded from coronavirus thanks to the recent fundraising, and that jobs were not at risk. Days later, the firm confirmed it was laying off up to 15% of its workforce.

At the time, the company said this was due to the “economic impact and uncertainty” and that it intended to protect as many jobs as possible in the long term.

In response to the legal case, a OneTrust spokesperson told Wired that the “unprecedented times” caused by coronavirus required the company to make “prudent business decisions in our operations, environment and staffing”. The decisions were made based on performance and communicated with each individual employee in a safe, virtual manner, the spokesperson concluded.

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