Yahoo ordered to appear in Egyptian court

Internet giant Yahoo was ordered Tuesday to appear in a Cairo courtroom after four former employees charged the company with wrongful termination.

The former employees, who were asked to resign in separate incidents, claim that the company let them go under false pretenses and has withheld financial compensation and employment documents it promised to provide.

“The labor office cannot handle the case, so the court will begin investigating from the beginning,” said Alaa Farouk, a lawyer representing the former employees on behalf of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The dispute has moved to court “because the company didn’t want to cooperate” with the labor office, according to Farouk.

Sally Zekry Nachla and Esraa al-Sherbiny, two of the plaintiffs, say Yahoo has refused to give them a form acknowledging they were terminated, a document required by Egyptian law before they can find work in another company.

Sherbiny tried to rescind her resignation within a grace period allowed in Egyptian law, but the company refused to accept it.

“Yahoo believes strongly in respecting its employees,” a spokesperson for Yahoo told Egypt Independent. “When an employee leaves us we meet and even exceed local law requirements.” Questioned on the details of the case, Yahoo declined to comment further.

The court is scheduled to hear the complaints on 24, 25 and 30 June. It can order the company to rehire or compensate the former employees but cannot determine criminal liability.

The former employees have taken their case to court in the hopes that it will spark an investigation into Ahmed Fouad, Yahoo’s human resources manager in Egypt, who they say lied to them about their managers in order to encourage their resignation.

Nachla says that on 12 March, a year after she was hired, Ahmed Fouad told her the boss in Barcelona wanted to shut her division down. “Ahmed Fouad claimed that he was trying to help us, saying that the best thing I could do now was to resign so that he could give us our rights,” she said. That included a promise to pay three months of her salary and an LE20,000 bonus she was owed for achieving sales goals.

When her final paycheck appeared weeks later, it was short one month of payment and the bonus was not there. Representatives at Yahoo told her the other money had gone to taxes and laughed when she confronted them about her bonus, she says.

Sherbiny says that Ahmed Fouad also pressured to her resign. She was told that her boss in France hated her and she would be kicked out of the office with no compensation if she did not sign her resignation immediately. The manager had not been told that Sherbiny was fired and was shocked when she contacted her online the next day.

Nachla says she contacted the Office of Employee Insurance in May and discovered that Yahoo had extended her insurance registration ten days after she resigned. She fears the company planned to establish a paper trail to show that she and other employees had never been let go, then allege that they had failed to appear at work for two months, giving Yahoo grounds to fire them without compensation.

Yahoo has attempted to extend an olive branch, offering the former employees a three-month training course on career advancement, but the plaintiffs say their relationship with Yahoo has soured. “They think that Egyptian employees are cattle and have no rights,” Sherbiny said.

Mohamed Ghonim, a search engine optimization expert at Yahoo, was fired in April after raising the company’s profile on search engine results. “I was in shock. I didn't see it coming at all,” he said. “I wasn't planning to go to court against them, but I lost a serious job offer from London because I didn't have my release form. Yahoo wouldn't give me any paper proving I had held the position with them.”

He has been offered his old job in return for dropping the case, but he fears Yahoo could then legally fire him again without compensation during the probation period.

The dispute comes as Yahoo is struggling to keep up with internet competitors Google and Facebook, who have left Yahoo with a diminishing share of the market in search results and social media advertising. Ross Levinsohn took over as interim CEO last month when the previous CEO was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had falsified his academic credentials.

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