OpenAI scraps controversial nondisparagement agreement with employees

Employees previously had to agree not to speak against the company if they didn't want to lose their vested equity.


OpenAI will not enforce any nondisparagement agreement former employees had signed and will remove the language from its exit paperwork altogether, the company told Bloomberg. Vox recently reported that OpenAI was making exiting employees choose between being able to speak against the company and to keep the vested equity they earned. Employees could lose millions if they choose not to sign the agreement or if they violate it. Sam Altman, OpenAI's CEO, said he was "embarrassed" and didn't know that the provision existed, promising to have the company's paperwork altered.

According to Bloomberg, the company notified former employees that "[r]egardless of whether [they] executed the agreement... OpenAI has not canceled, and will not cancel, any vested units." It released them from the agreement altogether, "unless the nondisparagement provision was mutual." At least one former employee said they had lost their vested equity that was equivalent to multiple times their family's net worth by refusing to sign when they left. It's unclear if they're getting it back with this change. The company also talked to current employees about this development, easing their worries that they will have to be careful with everything they say if they don't want to lose their stocks.

"We are sorry for the distress this has caused great people who have worked hard for us," Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon said in a statement. "We have been working to fix this as quickly as possible. We will work even harder to be better."

This wasn't the only controversial situation OpenAI has been involved in as of late. The company recently revealed that it was disbanding the team it formed last year to help make sure humanity is protected from future AI systems, which could be so powerful they could cause our extinction. Before that, OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was one of the team's leads, left the company. Another team lead, Jan Leike, said in a series of tweets that "safety culture and processes have taken a backseat to shiny products" within OpenAI. In addition, Scarlett Johansson accused OpenAI of copying her voice without permission for ChatGPT's Sky voice assistant after she turned down Altman's request to lend her voice to the company. OpenAI denied that it copied the actor's voice and said that it hired another actor way before Altman contacted Johansson.