The head of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase doubled down this week on a new policy banning employees from having conversations about political topics at work and has offered a severance package to anyone who feels uncomfortable continuing to work for the platform.
Controversy began after CEO Brian Armstrong wrote in a blog post on the Coinbase website on Sunday stating that company employees would no longer “[d]ebate causes or political candidates internally” nor “[e]xpect the company to represent our personal beliefs externally.”
Many interpreted the remarks to mean the company would not support political causes publicly nor allow employees to discuss current political topics while at work.
“I recognize that our approach is not for everyone, and may be controversial. I know that many people may not agree, and some employees may resign. I also know that some of what I’ve written above will be misinterpreted, whether accidentally or on purpose,” Armstrong wrote. “But I believe it’s the right approach for Coinbase that will set us up for success long term, and I would rather be honest and transparent about that than equivocate and work in a company that is not aligned.”
His remarks drew criticism from some who argued that the CEO was setting the company up for failure.
“Brian’s Coinbase statement strikes me as isolationist fantasy. Of course there is a balance between business building and juggling all the various concerns of the rest of the world. But if you have people you have politics,” tweeted Aaron White, CTO of software management company Blissfully.
“Basically, by taking your business, a group of people w/ real world concerns, and purposefully disengaging your organization from the non-business world… you are effectively GUARANTEEING you’ll land on the wrong side of history for absolutely every issue,” White continued.
“If Coinbase was around when it was unpopular for women to be working it wouldn’t have advanced the cause. For people of color. For worker’s rights. For parental leave. For child labor. Pick a point in history & apply Brian’s logic to the culture of the time.”
Basically, by taking your business, a group of people w/ real world concerns, and purposefully disengaging your organization from the non-business world… you are effectively GUARANTEEING you’ll land on the wrong side of history for absolutely every issue.
— ️ Aaron White (@aaronwhite) September 29, 2020
Angel investor Jason Calacanis tweeted that “[a]t my companies (the ones I run) we are fine with talking about politics & social issues, we just have a rule against doing it in SLACK & email—where these debates /arguments can go super nova and create a massive distraction, bad feelings, & legal liability for organizations.”
At my companies (the ones I run) we are fine with talking about politics & social issues, we just have a rule against doing it in SLACK & email—where these debates /arguments can go super nova and create a massive distraction, bad feelings, & legal liability for organizations.
Others, including venture capitalist Paul Graham, praised Armstrong’s efforts to chart a path for companies seeking to employ workers with different political beliefs.
“Yet again, @brian_armstrong leads the way. I predict most successful companies will follow Coinbase’s lead. If only because those who don’t are less likely to succeed,” he wrote.
— Paul Graham (@paulg) September 28, 2020
In a follow-up email to employees on Tuesday reported by cryptocurrency site The Block, Armstrong offered “anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable” with the company’s new direction at least four months severance, with more offered to tenured employees. The company will also cover COBRA health care costs for several months.
“It’s always sad when we see teammates go, but it can also be what is best for them and the company,” Armstrong wrote, according to The Block. “Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about.”
Coinbase previously made headlines after a group of employees staged a walkout after Armstrong did not immediately voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement amid protests against police brutality and racism. Armstrong later spoke up in support of the movement in June.
So I’ve decided to speak up. It’s a shame that this even needs to be said in this day and age, but racism, police brutality, and unequal justice are unequivocally wrong, and we need to all work to eliminate them from society.
— Brian Armstrong (@brian_armstrong) June 4, 2020