OpenAI Documents Reveal Punitive Tactics Toward Former Employees

Kelsey Piper, Vox:

Questions arose immediately [over the resignations of key OpenAI staff]: Were they forced out? Is this delayed fallout of Altman’s brief firing last fall? Are they resigning in protest of some secret and dangerous new OpenAI project? Speculation filled the void because no one who had once worked at OpenAI was talking.

It turns out there’s a very clear reason for that. I have seen the extremely restrictive off-boarding agreement that contains nondisclosure and non-disparagement provisions former OpenAI employees are subject to. It forbids them, for the rest of their lives, from criticizing their former employer. Even acknowledging that the NDA exists is a violation of it.

Sam Altman, [sic]:

we have never clawed back anyone’s vested equity, nor will we do that if people do not sign a separation agreement (or don’t agree to a non-disparagement agreement). vested equity is vested equity, full stop.

there was a provision about potential equity cancellation in our previous exit docs; although we never clawed anything back, it should never have been something we had in any documents or communication. this is on me and one of the few times i’ve been genuinely embarrassed running openai; i did not know this was happening and i should have.

Piper, again, in a Vox follow-up story:

In two cases Vox reviewed, the lengthy, complex termination documents OpenAI sent out expired after seven days. That meant the former employees had a week to decide whether to accept OpenAI’s muzzle or risk forfeiting what could be millions of dollars — a tight timeline for a decision of that magnitude, and one that left little time to find outside counsel.


Most ex-employees folded under the pressure. For those who persisted, the company pulled out another tool in what one former employee called the “legal retaliation toolbox” he encountered on leaving the company. When he declined to sign the first termination agreement sent to him and sought legal counsel, the company changed tactics. Rather than saying they could cancel his equity if he refused to sign the agreement, they said he could be prevented from selling his equity.

For its part, OpenAI says in a statement quoted by Piper that it is updating its documentation and releasing former employees from the more egregious obligations of their termination agreements.

This next part is totally inside baseball and, unless you care about big media company CMS migrations, it is probably uninteresting. Anyway. I noticed, in reading Piper’s second story, an updated design which launched yesterday. Left unmentioned in that announcement is that it is, as far as I can tell, the first of Vox’s Chorus-powered sites migrated to WordPress. The CMS resides on the platform subdomain which is not important. But it did indicate to me that the Verge may be next — resolves to a WordPress login page — and, based on its DNS records, Polygon could follow shortly thereafter.