The technology sector has recently seen an alarming rise in layoffs both in the United States and India. Companies such as Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta have let go of thousands of employees in response to growing economic uncertainties and a need to economize. The year 2022 saw over 150,000 “tech startup” employees worldwide lose their jobs, with over 970 firms making layoffs. Most of these layoffs occurred in the United States, where startups struggled to secure funding amid high inflation, rising interest rates, slowing economic growth, and geopolitical tensions.
After the unprecedented “FOMO-driven funding” of 2021, startup valuations in India are at their peak, pressurizing startups to increase their runway and cut costs. This has led to 67 startups, including unicorns such as BYJU’S, Chargebee, and Ola, laying off 20,484 employees as of February 2023. Edtech, consumer services, and e-commerce have seen the most layoffs, with 40 startups letting go of 16,792 employees. The Edtech sector is particularly under intense scrutiny, with 16 Edtech startups (including four of the seven Edtech unicorns) laying off over 8,000 employees and five startups shutting down.
From a policy standpoint, market regulators could play a role in setting ethical practices for mass layoffs and protecting employees’ rights. The Ministry of Labour and Employment and the respective state labour departments are the Indian government bodies responsible for implementing and enforcing labor laws and regulations. However, the companies are ultimately responsible for ensuring the fair treatment of their employees. Each company must balance its cost-cutting needs with the obligation to provide stability and security to its employees.
A possible solution to mitigate the impact of layoffs is for the companies to implement retraining and reskilling programs for employees who may be displaced by the changes in the industry. This would not only help employees maintain their livelihoods, but also contribute to a resilient and adaptable workforce. Another solution is to establish ethical practices for layoffs, such as providing adequate notice and support for affected employees and avoiding indiscriminate mass layoffs.
Various countries have existing laws and guiding principles for layoffs and employee protection. In the United States, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires companies with more than 100 employees to provide 60 days’ notice before a mass layoff or plant closure. The law aims to give employees and their families sufficient adjustment time to prospective employment loss, seek alternative jobs, and plan for the transition.
Similarly, the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act 1946 in India mandates employers to provide at least 30 days’ notice before laying off 50 or more workers, or at least 60 days before laying off 100 or more workers. The act stipulates that workers affected by layoffs receive severance pay and other benefits.
Additionally, governments can incentivize companies to invest in employee training and development and prioritize their well-being by offering tax breaks or other benefits. Some examples of “other benefits” could include subsidies for employee training programs, grants for workplace wellness initiatives, or reduced tax rates for companies meeting specific criteria on employee retention and satisfaction. Additionally, governments may offer low-interest loans or other forms of financial assistance to companies investing in their employees. The specific benefits offered may vary by the country and region. For example, some European countries have mandatory training requirements and provide subsidies for employee training, while some US states and Canada offer tax credits for investing in training and development programs. Some Asian countries have mandatory training programs and tax incentives. In Latin America, labor laws protect workers’ rights, and some countries offer tax incentives and subsidies for employee development.
Many of these principles are applicable in the technology industry, with some unique challenges. For example, the industry is known for its fast-paced innovation and constant change, making it challenging to maintain job stability and keep up with new skills and technologies. Additionally, the industry attracts highly skilled workers who may be less likely to unionize or engage in collective bargaining.
The implications of these labor practices on overall employment and ease of doing business in the technology industry can be significant. For instance, companies prioritizing employee well-being and ethical business practices may attract and retain top talent, leading to a highly competitive and innovative industry.
Contrarily, those prioritizing profits over labor standards may face negative public perception and difficulty recruiting and retaining employees.
Furthermore, market regulators play a crucial role in enforcing fair labor practices and protecting workers’ rights. However, the technology industry has historically been subject to less regulation than other industries, causing concerns about worker exploitation and unfair labor practices. Hence, some governments and organizations advocate for increased regulation of the technology industry to protect workers and hold businesses accountable for their actions.
In conclusion, the recent layoffs in the technology industry serve as a reminder of the importance of prioritizing responsible business practices. While profit is undoubtedly a crucial aspect of any business, it should not come at the expense of the well-being and livelihood of employees. As the industry continues to grow and evolve, companies must be mindful of the ethical implications of their decisions, particularly during periods of economic uncertainty. One way to ensure that companies are held accountable for fair labor practices is through market regulators that protect workers’ rights and ensure a level playing field for all. Additionally, companies should adhere to globally accepted principles, such as fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions, and the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining. By striking a balance between profit and ethical business practices, companies can help create a stable and secure future for their employees and the technology industry as a whole.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.