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Cryptocurrency company Coinbase defends rule against politics at work

Cryptocurrency company Coinbase defends rule against politics at work
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The head of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase doubled down this week on a new policy banning employees from having conversations about political topics at work and has offered a severance package to anyone who feels uncomfortable continuing to work for the platform.

Controversy began after CEO Brian Armstrong wrote in a blog post on the Coinbase website on Sunday stating that employees would no longer "debate causes or political candidates internally" nor "expect the company to represent our personal beliefs externally."

Many interpreted the remarks to mean the company would not support political causes publicly nor allow employees to discuss current political topics while at work.

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"I recognize that our approach is not for everyone, and may be controversial. I know that many people may not agree, and some employees may resign. I also know that some of what I’ve written above will be misinterpreted, whether accidentally or on purpose," Armstrong wrote. "But I believe it’s the right approach for Coinbase that will set us up for success long term, and I would rather be honest and transparent about that than equivocate and work in a company that is not aligned."

His remarks drew criticism from some who argued that the CEO was setting the company up for failure.

"Brian's Coinbase statement strikes me as isolationist fantasy. Of course there is a balance between business building and juggling all the various concerns of the rest of the world. But if you have people you have politics," tweeted Aaron White, CTO of software management company Blissfully.

"Basically, by taking your business, a group of people w/ real world concerns, and purposefully disengaging your organization from the non-business world... you are effectively GUARANTEEING you'll land on the wrong side of history for absolutely every issue," White added.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called Coinbase's policy exclusionary and counter to the stated goal of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, which he said amounted to a protest against the current financial system.

"#Bitcoin (aka 'crypto') is direct activism against an unverifiable and exclusionary financial system which negatively affects so much of our society. Important to at *least* acknowledge and connect the related societal issues your customers face daily. This leaves people behind," Dorsey tweeted.

"This isn't great leadership. It's the abdication of leadership. It's the equivalent of telling your employees to 'shut up and dribble,'" added Twitter's former CEO Dick Costolo.

Angel investor Jason Calacanis tweeted, "At my companies (the ones I run) we are fine with talking about politics & social issues, we just have a rule against doing it in SLACK & email—where these debates /arguments can go super nova and create a massive distraction, bad feelings, & legal liability for organizations."

Others, including venture capitalist Paul Graham, praised Armstrong's efforts to chart a path for companies seeking to employ workers with different political beliefs.

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"Yet again, @brian_armstrong leads the way. I predict most successful companies will follow Coinbase's lead. If only because those who don't are less likely to succeed," he wrote.

In a follow-up email to employees on Tuesday reported by cryptocurrency site The Block, Armstrong offered "anyone who doesn't feel comfortable" with the company's new direction at least four months severance, with more offered to tenured employees. The company will also cover COBRA health care costs for several months.

"It's always sad when we see teammates go, but it can also be what is best for them and the company," Armstrong wrote, according to The Block. "Life is too short to work at a company that you aren't excited about."

Coinbase previously made headlines after a group of employees staged a walkout after Armstrong did not immediately voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement amid protests against police brutality and racism. Armstrong later spoke up in support of the movement in June.

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