CEO praises worker who sold family dog to commit to return-to-office policy

WATCH: What is "hustle culture" and why are companies facing backlash for it?

It seems CEOs these days aren’t aware how easy it is to record video calls because they just keep getting caught saying the darnedest things.

Earlier this week, the CEO of furniture giant MillerKnoll went viral for telling her employees to leave “pity city,” after workers learned they wouldn’t be getting bonuses. Now, the CEO of a Utah-based digital marketing and technology firm is in hot water for comments he made during a virtual town hall last week.

The CEO of Clearlink was recorded praising an employee for selling the family dog after hearing about the company’s return-to-office policy, accusing dozens of workers of “quiet quitting,” and questioned whether single mothers or primary caregivers could really work full-time jobs.

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The all-hands meeting was called to address Clearlink’s recent return-to-office mandate, which didn’t go over well with some employees. Motherboard, who was first to report on the situation, wrote that a number of employees had been hired with the understanding that Clearlink was a “remote-first” company.

Internal emails obtained by the outlet show that as recently as October 2022, the company had assured employees that there were “no plans” — in bolded typeface — to require workers to come in to the office.

But Motherboard reports that after a recent round of layoffs, leadership at Clearlink told its employees that “circumstances” had changed.

On April 3, Clearlink CEO James Clarke notified employees in an email that anyone living within 50 miles of the company’s headquarters in Draper, Utah, would be expected to start coming in four days a week starting on April 17.

Employees were understandably concerned about the about-face — how quickly they were expected to return to the office and what the company expected them to do in terms of childcare.

Clarke addressed these questions, and more, in last week’s town hall. A supercut of his comments was posted to Reddit and YouTube, quickly going viral before they were taken down due to a copyright claim from Clearlink. Motherboard obtained a copy of the video and reposted it on their site.

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The video shows Clarke paranoid about the amount of work remote employees have been putting in.

“Some have already quietly quit their positions but are taking a paycheque,” Clarke claims in the meeting. “In one month in this year alone, I got data that 30 of you didn’t even open or crack open laptops. And those are all remote employees.”

It’s standard practice in the tech industry for companies to provide employees laptops to work on, which can be remotely accessed through monitoring software — but it’s possible these workers were simply using their personal computers for work.

Clarke also wondered whether some remote software developers were secretly working for “two different companies, we don’t know.”

The Clearlink CEO laid into copywriters, claiming that some are “exclusively using AI to write.”

“I can do that in about 30 minutes of an eight-hour work day,” he said. “So what do we need to do? Let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production.”

But the real kicker came when Clarke chose to spotlight one devoted employee, who chose to sell the family dog in order to buckle down harder for the company.

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“I learned from one of our leaders that, in the midst of hearing this message, went out and sold their family dog.”

Clarke said the “sacrifice” broke his heart, and claimed that he was “at the head of the humanization of pets movement.”

(According to the CEO’s LinkedIn page, he served on the board of PetIQ, a company that sells pet health and wellness products.)

On top of those remarks, Clarke challenged his employees to “outwork” him and then went on a long-winded rant about childcare.

The CEO said he believes it’s possible for mothers and primary caregivers to work full-time jobs and still meet company expectation, but “it adds so much stress to a working mother’s life that I would never want to put on anyone.”

He also said that arguments have been made that having a full-time job and being a primary caregiver is “neither fair to your employer nor fair to those children.”

“Now, I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said. “But I do believe that only the rarest of full-time caregivers can also be productive and full-time employees at the same time.”

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In an internal email viewed by Motherboard, the company confirmed to its employees that it would not be offering in-office daycare.

Clearlink spokesperson Layne Watson declined to answer Motherboard’s questions about the virtual town hall and the company’s return-to-work mandate, saying that was a matter of “internal Clearlink business.”

“We look forward to having these team members join us at our new world-class Global Headquarters in Draper, UT and appreciate the efforts of all of our committed team members — which includes those who work in office and those who will continue to work remotely — as we accomplish our best work together,” Watson added.

In a company email, Clearlink wrote that the mandate will only apply to the 35 per cent of workers that live in a 50-mile radius of the Draper officer, “about 275 people,” and that the return-to-office policy is a “permanent decision” that is “not optional.”


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