Coinbase CEO offers severance to employees leaving over politics

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Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong

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Coinbase is offering to pay employees who decide to quit the cryptocurrency company after it discouraged employee activism and discussing of political and social issues at work.

CEO Brian Armstrong told Coinbase staff in an email that the company would offer severance packages for anyone “who doesn’t feel comfortable with this new direction.” The pay packages range from four to six months, depending on how long an employee had been with the company. 

“Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about,” Armstrong said in the email, which was previously reported by The Block. “Hopefully this package helps create a win-win outcome for those who choose to opt out.”

The message came days after Armstrong published a blog post clarifying the company’s stance of non-engagement on social and political issues.

Specifically, Armstrong said that the company “won’t debate causes or political candidates internally,” and will not engage when the issues are “unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus.” The cryptocurrency company is “laser focused” on the use of digital currencies, and on profits, Armstrong said. 

The co-founder pointed to “internal strife” at Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Facebook that “engage in a wide variety of social activism, even those unrelated to what the company does.” 

“While I think these efforts are well intentioned, they have the potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction, and by creating internal division,” Armstrong said. “I believe most employees don’t want to work in these divisive environments.”

The approach stands apart from many Silicon Valley companies, which have embraced social justice causes in the wake of widespread protests over racial injustice this year.

For instance, Google this week announced an extensive $310 million program to bolster diversity and inclusion at the company as part of a lawsuit settlement with shareholders who alleged the company did not take complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination seriously enough. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, recently tightened restrictions on discussing political and social issues on the company’s internal message boards, but stopped short of discouraging or banning them entirely.

Armstrong himself was outspoken in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and tweeted his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“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,” he said in series of tweets. 

Coinbase’s new policy immediately sparked debate on Twitter. Some, such as investor Paul Graham, applauded the position and predicted “most successful companies will follow Coinbase’s lead.”

Others suggested it would drive away tech talent and customers.

The San Francisco-based company is the largest U.S. cryptocurrency trading platform. It has raised more than $500 million in private funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures and Tiger Global, among others, at an $8 billion valuation, according to PitchBook.

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