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Layoffs at Big Four accounting firm PwC Canada face media scrutiny over severance

Confirmation this week of layoffs at Big Four Canadian accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers followed PwC staff reductions in the UK and Australia

Author: Canadian Accountant

TORONTO, Nov. 26, 2023 – A global culling of workers at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers finally hit this week in Canada. PwC Canada has acknowledged that it terminated roughly 150 employees or approximately two per cent of its workforce. The layoffs were not announced publicly but were confirmed by a PwC Canada spokesperson following inquiries from the Globe and Mail. 

The Canadian layoffs follow a global trend at the Big Four accounting firms. Both PwC UK and PwC Australia announced layoffs earlier this month. PwC UK faced some criticism over its decision “to cut up to 600 jobs rather than cut partner pay amid a slowdown in client demand, saying it was important to offer “competitive” pay packages to senior staff,” according to The Guardian. 

In the same week, PwC Australia laid off roughly four per cent of its workforce, “citing a slowing economy and the after-effects of a national scandal over leaked tax documents as a major audit client cut ties with the firm.” PwC US told media outlets earlier this year that it had “no plans” to reduce staffing. 

Contracting economies due to high interest rates are contributing to layoffs globally at the Big Four. KPMG UK recently announced 12,000 layoffs. Ernst and Young began slashing its workforce in the US last spring, and recently announced that it would abandon its prestigious London headquarters as working from home has transformed the office work of professionals. 

PwC Canada faces scrutiny over layoff practices

Anxiety over potential layoffs began building earlier this month when some PwC employees received meeting requests (“Important Business Update”) with “relationship leaders” (RLs). According to various sources, the layoffs occurred over several business units, including assurance, consulting and tax. 

The Globe and Mail, which obtained a termination email, reported that PwC: 

offered employees whose “services are no longer required” one week of pay per year of service, with benefits to be terminated one week from the date of dismissal. The e-mail also said the severance offer “includes all of our obligations to you, whether statutory, contractual, at common law, or otherwise.” 

PwC Canada spokesperson Anuja Kale-Agarwal told the Globe and Mail: “These decisions are very difficult and are never taken lightly. The impacted individuals were treated fairly.” However, an employment lawyer with Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, which has offices across Canada, contradicted that characterization. 

The severance offers of PwC Canada, according to employment lawyer Fiona Martyn, “are not insultingly low offers, but they are also not incredibly reasonable or incredibly fair, especially when looking at some of the factors that the courts will look at.” In a blog post, Martyn commented, “There is certainly some room for movement here.”

As the Globe and Mail points out, Canada’s five big banks have been “quietly” shedding employees, with the pace of layoffs accelerating. While the banking sector employs roughly 280,000 people, and the Canadian Big Four employ a workforce of roughly 40,000 people, the two sectors resemble one another in the annual expansion and contraction of their workforces. 

By Canadian Accountant staff. If you are laid off at an accounting firm in Canada, share your story anonymously by email with Canadian Accountant.

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