GitHub is backpedaling, apologizing for firing a Jewish employee who warned of Nazis and offering him his job back.
On January 6, the day of the Capitol insurrection, a Jewish GitHub employee posted a Slack message for colleagues in D.C., warning them to stay safe from Nazis. The post drew criticism from at least one employee, according to The Verge, who objected to his use of the word “Nazi.” The company’s HR department reprimanded the employee who posted the message, before firing him two days later.
The employee’s firing ignited a firestorm within the company. News reports proved there were neo-Nazis among those storming the Capitol. In addition, employees started using the term “Nazis” to describe the insurrectionists. Ultimately, couple of hundred employees signed an open letter demanding an explanation of why the employee was fired.
In response, GitHub hired an outside investigator to conduct an investigation and determine if the actions taken were correct. According to a company blog post by COO Erica Brescia, “the investigation revealed significant errors of judgment and procedure. Our head of HR has taken personal accountability and resigned from GitHub yesterday morning, Saturday, January 16th.”
GitHub has since offered the employee his job back and are working with his representative. In the meantime, the company is trying to clearly state its position.
Brescia reiterated statements she and CEO Nat Friedman had shared with employees, as well as the press, in her blog post:
It was appalling last week to watch a violent mob, including Nazis and white supremacists, attack the US Capitol. That these hateful ideologies were able to reach the sacred seat of our democratic republic in 2021 is sickening. The views that propelled this attack are morally abhorrent to me personally, and, I know, to our entire leadership team and company.
GitHub condemns the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th and any and all belief systems that are discriminatory. Antisemitism, neo-Nazis, and white supremacy – along with all other forms of racism – are vile and have no place in our community.
We do not and will not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in any of its forms, period.
Employees are free to express concerns about Nazis, antisemitism, white supremacy or any other form of discrimination or harassment in internal discussions. We expect all employees to be respectful, professional, and follow GitHub policies on discrimination and harassment.
GitHub’s actions are a case study of what to do, as well as what not to do, in handling situations. The company was clearly overly hasty in its firing of the employee, making a decision before gathering all the facts. At the same time, once the company realized its mistake, it was quick to take decisive action, hold those responsible accountable and do its best to fix the situation.