SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has shown he does not take criticism very well. So when employees of his rocket company called their boss’ behavior a “distraction and embarrassment”… well you can see where this is going.
The New York Times first reported that SpaceX fired several employees who helped write an open letter that took Musk to task for his off-the-wall behavior online and in public. The firings apparently happened Thursday afternoon after The Verge first broke the story about the employee’s letter that same day.
In an internal email obtained by the Times, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO, wrote that the company had “terminated a number of employees involved” with staff’s critique of their CEO. She further said that the workers’ letter “made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and bullied, and/or angry” since it apparently pressured them to sign something “that did not reflect their views.”
It isn’t clear how many were fired, but Reuters reported there were at least five. Three employees spoke to the Times but did not reveal their names or positions. They said staff rarely stand up to the CEO. Another anonymous employee who helped write the letter called bull on Shotwell’s reasoning, telling The Verge they spent a month of hard work putting together the letter by soliciting feedback from fellow employees.
We reached out to SpaceX for comment, but the company rarely—if ever—responds to any press inquiries.
The company has a lot of work to do, and can’t afford “this kind of overreaching activism,” according to Shotwell’s email. SpaceX wants to get its first orbital launch ready for takeoff next month, following extended delays. “This is how we will get to Mars,” Shotwell wrote in her email.
The employees’ letter says that, since Musk is the company’s CEO and prime spokesperson, “every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.” So when Musk posts something like “the [Federal Aviation Administration] is fundamentally broken,” calls a British cave explorer “pedo guy,” or repeatedly downplayed the severity of covid early on in the pandemic, the employees say it reflects back on them and the company they work for.
The letter writers further advocated the company adhere to its “no-asshole” and “zero tolerance” policy by making sure there’s ways for employees to report bad behavior and punish those responsible for a bad working environment, “whether from the CEO or an employee starting their first day.”
Shotwell has gone to bat for Musk before. After news broke that the SpaceX CEO allegedly sexually harassed a SpaceX flight attendant and then hushed her with a non-disclosure agreement and a $250,000 settlement, the company president told staff that the allegations were false. Shotwell further claimed that doing something like that was out of character for Musk. The COO did not precisely deny the settlement, however.
The SpaceX CEO denied the allegations, but apparently being accused of exposing your penis to an employee is funny enough to later use it in another one of his infamous tweets.
Musk does not want employees straying out of line. Documents have shown that Musk’s other company Tesla monitored workers’ social media activity to stave off any dreaded union push. He has mandated that the vast majority of staff must work in the office 40 hours a week despite the push for work-from-home policies across the tech world.