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OpenAI reportedly threatened ex-employees of their vested equity if they criticize publicly

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In the last few weeks, several employees have left OpenAI including co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, co-leader of the superalignment team Jan Leike, Leopold Aschenbrenner and Pavel Izmailov, both members of the superalignment team. The exits even led to the dissolution of the superalignment team. With many employees departing, it has come to light that OpenAI is using aggressive tactics towards former employees, including forcing them to sign highly restrictive documents that say employees could lose vested equity if they criticize the company.

According to a report by Vox, leaked documents provided by OpenAI's ex-employees revealed that the documents that they were made to sign included multiple passages that stated that the company has a near-arbitrary authority to get back equity from former employees or block them from reselling it.

One such former employee, Daniel Kokatajlo, confirmed publicly that he had lost quite a bit of money by not signing an OpenAI NDA. He added that the documents that he had signed while joining the company still prohibit him from being completely free to speak.

After Vox's first post about OpenAI's restrictive employee practices, Sam Altman took to X to apologize about it, saying that he was unaware of such provisions in the exit documents.

Multiple people from OpenAI's executive team added to the apology that was circulated internally with employees. In one such message that was leaked, OpenAI's Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon stated that such a provision had been in place since 2019 and the team caught this approximately a month ago. He further added, "the fact that it went this long before the catch is on me.”

In a fuller statement shared to Vox, OpenAI said:

“As we shared with employees today, we are making important updates to our departure process. We have not and never will take away vested equity, even when people didn't sign the departure documents. We're removing nondisparagement clauses from our standard departure paperwork, and we're releasing former employees from existing nondisparagement obligations unless the nondisparagement provision was mutual. We'll communicate this message to former employees. We're incredibly sorry that we're only changing this language now; it doesn't reflect our values or the company we want to be.”

The company has had its fair share of scandals, including the time when Sam Altman was fired in November 2023, citing he wasn't "consistently candid with the board". According to a report by The Guardian, Ilya Sutskever was involved in Altman's temporary firing. After Altman's return, Sutskever was removed from the board, and his position at the company became unclear, while on the other hand, Altman joined the board.

More recently, OpenAI also removed the "Sky" voice from its options after Scarlett Johansson revealed publicly that Sam Altman had contacted her for voicing the AI. After she declined, he went on to hire a voice actress to impersonate her which sparked significant backlash to the company.

Many documents that were part of Vox's report can be found in their article, which includes redacted resignation emails, the clause about equity, and more.

Via Vox

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