CEO leadership under scrutiny

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

Companies sell products and services. They are not generally in the business of pushing political ideology. But more and more companies feel employee and societal pressure to take a public stance at times of societal upheaval.

Politicizing the workplace is risky business.


Fortune Magazine reported on May 13 that Playstation CEO Jim Ryan wrote an email to employees referencing abortion rights. He said he didn’t take a stance but urged employees to “respect differences of opinion.”


Ryan wrote this email following the leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that discussed the possibility of overturning Roe v Wade, the U.S. case that legalized abortion in that country.


Ryan wrote that the company was “multi-faceted and diverse, holding many different points of view.” He then turned to more lighthearted topics, including celebrating the first birthday of his two cats. Bloomberg reported that Ryan’s email received a chilly reception and some female employees believed the tone trivialized the issues and that their rights were disrespected.


On a practical level, Ryan’s email opened up a dialogue within Playstation. Presumably members of leadership and HR could interpret his email to speak openly about their personal views on abortion rights, creating an environment that could quickly turn toxic for women. A hotbed of liability could be be lurking in the shadows following this email that frankly said nothing of substance but implied many things.


Companies sell products and services. They are not generally in the business of pushing political ideology. But more and more companies feel employee and societal pressure to take a public stance at times of societal upheaval.


Remaining apolitical can bear serious consequences too.


An example is Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong who, after seeing employee walkouts following the death of George Flloyd in 2020, confirmed the company would not engage in “social activism” and offered employees severance packages if they did not align with the company’s vision. At least 5% of the company’s employees accepted an exit package.


Leadership in this era has changed. No longer is performance measured by EBITDA targets and retention alone, but instead leaders are now expected to be otherworldly and unimpeachable, lead moral causes and opine on civil rights.


Employees select their places of employment largely by how their organizations are perceived by the world, leaving leadership in unchartered waters that are about to get cloudier. To survive, CEOs must brandish the cause of their companies and safely stow away their personal views at home. While authenticity is a key trait to many great leaders, it is precious capital that must be spent judiciously.


On to this week’s questions:


Q. My company has a COVID vaccination mandate which stipulates, among other things, that unvaccinated people are to work from home if their role does not require close contact with clients or co-workers. I have a co-worker who continues to come into the workplace daily although she is unvaccinated, and she sits in the lunchroom with the rest of us during breaks. She doesn’t even wear a mask. I would complain except she is close friends with one of our managers and I don’t want to jeopardize my position. What should I do?


A. Ask your employer if it is following any COVID protocols and if it is monitoring the COVID status of employees in the workplace. Often simply asking these exploratory questions will motivate leadership to tighten up and observe policies that may have been forgotten. If you have specific concerns (ie medical) alert your employer now, in writing.


Q. I work for a commercial leasing establishment as a property manager. My company is being acquired by a large real estate conglomerate. The new company has offered me a more junior position for a reduced salary, it looks as if they don’t really want me to continue working there. Should I take the position while I look for another job? Or ask to be let go and demand a separation package?


A. If the position is junior and at a salary that is at least 15% lower than what you are earning now, you may not legally be required to accept the new role. If you don’t accept, you may receive a separation package. Or, your previous employer may suggest you have failed to accept a comparable job. Situations like these can be sensitive. Have any employment offer reviewed by a lawyer and request an analysis of your current role with the new one to get a sense of how the two shape up to better understand your employment rights.


Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at and your question may be featured in a future column.


The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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