SpaceX reportedly fired at least five employees after a letter circulated critical of CEO Elon Musk and his company.
The letter allegedly referenced recent accusations of sexual misconduct involving Musk and called his behavior on social media a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment. It also asked SpaceX management to separate the company from Mr. Musk’s personal brand publicly and to take steps to address what it said was a gap between SpaceX’s stated values and its current systems and company culture.
Before the letter, Musk reportedly told SpaceX employees that they must spend at least 40 hours a week in the office or risk being fired.
SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed the company terminated several employees involved with the letter.
“The letter, solicitations, and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” said Shotwell in an email to employees obtained by the New York Times. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”
In her email response, Shotwell added that “blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is not acceptable. Please stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time to do your best work. This is how we will get to Mars.”
The Hawthorn, California-based company is headquartered in an “at-will” state, which means an employer can hire and fire workers for any reason except discriminatory ones. This leaves the fired employees little recourse to challenge their termination.
The employees cannot rely on the First Amendment since it does not apply in a private employment context, said Stacy Hawkins, a professor at Rutgers Law School.
“The workers may have some recourse with the National Labor Relations Act, which protects concerted activity when workers share information or views about the terms and conditions of employment, said Hawkins, but it is unclear whether the SpaceX employees’ statements would qualify under that statute.”