Skip to main content

Google and YouTube parent Alphabet Inc. GOOG-NE began laying off employees in Canada on Monday, more than two weeks after the California-based internet giant said it would chop 12,000 workers worldwide in a cost-cutting measure amid an economic downturn.

On Jan. 20, Alphabet and Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai announced 6 per cent of all staff would be cut in the coming days. While layoffs in the United States were effective immediately, hundreds of thousands of tech workers outside the U.S., including in Canada, had yet to be informed as of early February about whether their jobs would be affected.

On Monday, layoff notifications were sent to staff at Canadian offices, Google spokesperson Lauren Skelly said.

Ms. Skelly declined to provide details about how many Canadian staff are being cut by Alphabet or what their severance packages will look like, but she said, “Canada remains an important priority market for Google.”

The cuts are expected to particularly affect Canadian employees working for Google Nest, a lineup of automated home products from Alphabet, including smart speakers and other smart devices.

Alphabet employs about 2,500 staffers in Canada. They work primarily for Google, but also Alphabet’s other subsidiaries, such as DeepMind Technologies Ltd., which specializes in research toward artificial intelligence.

Google kicked off its Canadian operations in 2001, when it opened an office in Toronto with a single salesperson. In the two decades since, Google has expanded its presence by hiring thousands of engineers, sales leaders and AI researchers across Canada.

A month before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in February, 2020, Google revealed ambitious plans to more than triple its head count in Canada. At the time, Google had around 1,500 Canadian employees and the company said that, by 2022, it would be able to accommodate up to 5,000 employees in this country. To do so, Google was going to open a new office in each of the three Canadian cities it was already present: Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., Toronto and Montreal.

But now, the excitement around those plans for Google Canada and the company’s other global offices has dampened.

In a memo to staff and at a companywide town hall last month, Mr. Pichai said Alphabet had been hiring “for a different economic reality than the one we face today.” He said the company is no longer in the same period of “dramatic growth” that it had seen of late, and that the slowdown will affect Alphabet’s business around the world.

Shortly after Mr. Pichai’s memo, Alphabet said it is shutting down its DeepMind artificial intelligence research centre in Edmonton and relocating staff to other offices. The Edmonton location for DeepMind was the only international office directly managed by the subsidiary; the rest are all housed in buildings managed by Google.

Still, Alphabet waited for weeks to inform staff in Canada whether they would be laid off, and would not indicate even to managers which teams would be affected. Michael Landry, a Kitchener-based software engineer at Google, who was notified Monday that his job would be cut, called it “an extended period of limbo” in a post on LinkedIn.

Many other former staffers also posted about the loss of their jobs on social media, stating they were looking for work. But given the downturn in the global tech sector, several of them said they are worried about finding another well-paid job.

Mr. Pichai said U.S.-based workers will be paid during a 60-day notification period before being offered their severance packages, which will include a minimum of 16 weeks’ pay, plus two weeks for every additional year at Google. Those workers will also be offered health care benefits, job placement services and immigration support.

Such benefits, however, have yet to be extended to many Canadian staffers. Some are still waiting to be told what their packages will look like, while others have signed non-disclosure agreements to receive about four weeks of severance pay.