In March 2020, during the early days of covid-19 shutdowns, Cirque du Soleil’s CEO Daniel Lamarre, clad in a jaunty cravat and blue-tinted sunglasses, made a brief, yet bizarre video informing 4,679 of the company’s employees that they were without jobs for the foreseeable future. On Monday, temporarily laid-off employees received a seven-minute follow-up video in which Lamarre ditched the cravat—perhaps as a nod to the seriousness of the situation, but kept what a former employee called “Bono sunglasses”—to outline the company’s uncertain future, announce intentions to file for bankruptcy, and inform almost all of those temporarily laid-off employees that they are now permanently without jobs. The mass layoffs meant an immediate end to the meager benefits afforded employees in the last video, such as health insurance.
(Watch the full video here.)
Employees at the company were already skittish considering the company’s penchant for terse, dire announcements. In March, employees told Jezebel they received an email from the company telling them to expect an announcement at noon the following day. On Sunday night, a former employee who asked to remain anonymous says he got a voicemail saying that a second video would be coming on Monday. “I knew it was going to be bad,” the former employee said.
In the latest video, Lamarre explained that the company “can no longer afford to keep all our employees on temporary layoffs” as Cirque du Soleil struggles to pay off international debt and sell the brand to a third party. Lamarre also said that Cirque du Soleil hoped to receive a $200 million loan from the Quebec government, though the money hasn’t yet materialized as the company makes plans to file for “protection from its creditors.” Employees were told that, while the company hopes to recall them sometime in the near future, as of Monday, they had gone from being temporarily to permanently unemployed. The video ended after a vague reference to “dedicated funds” that would “ensure a soft landing” for the thousands now jobless.
But this promised support doesn’t exist. After the March video, select employees were instructed to join a chaotic 15-minute phone call with senior employees. This time, there was no such phone call; instead, employees were told they would soon receive an email outlining those plans for support. In the email, obtained by Jezebel, employees were told they would receive no severance, that their PTO payouts may affect their unemployment status, their health insurance would end June 30—the day after the call—and that the work permits of U.S. residents had been revoked. But on what the company perhaps intended as a positive note, employees with company laptops and cell phones were invited to keep them, given that they were returned to factory settings before personal use. Employees with desktops, however, were asked to return them.
And while many employees would have welcomed the PTO payout back in March, now it only adds a new set of complications, according to the former employee. A final check from Cirque du Soleil will effectively end the unemployment benefits for laid-off workers who had already filed, meaning they will have to start the arduous, sometimes months-long process all over again.
In a March interview with Jezebel, Lamarre said that employees would receive a final paycheck immediately, with PTO included. But in the days following that interview, one temporarily laid-off employee in New York told Jezebel that paycheck never materialized. The employee also shared a screenshot of a March email sent to Cirque du Soleil employees stating PTO could not be used and would not accrue during the temporary layoff, but existing PTO would be “reactivated upon your return to work.” The email also stated employee health insurance premiums would be paid “for a maximum of 6 months.”
The permanent layoffs will not affect Cirque du Soleil employees in Florida and Las Vegas, where shows are still expected to reopen. And while Lamarre suggested in the video that other shows may soon make plans to reopen and rehire laid-off employees, the former employee tells Jezebel that last week, employees in other cities, including New York, got an email asking them to make appointments to retrieve personal belongings from Cirque du Soleil theaters, which he took as an indication that they are unlikely to reopen.
Jezebel has reached out to Daniel Lamarre and Cirque du Soleil for comment and will update with any new information.