Social media’s takedown of a popular CEO

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

He came to fame following a public pledge to pay every Gravity employee a minimum of $70,000.00 a year. Price lowered his own CEO salary to $70,000 to leave more in the company coffers and meet this extraordinary objective.

Social media can be a kingmaker. Or, perhaps more aptly put, a relatively unknown person can use social media to hoist themselves into the ranks of online royalty. But with popularity, comes a cost. One’s online curated image must be authentic and true. If not, with time, your social media presence can render you jobless.

 

Such was the case of Dan Price, the former CEO of Gravity Payments. Price founded the payment processing company 18 years ago.

 

He came to fame following a public pledge to pay every Gravity employee a minimum of $70,000.00 a year. Price lowered his own CEO salary to $70,000 to leave more in the company coffers and meet this extraordinary objective.

 

Price took a leap that many leaders would not, linking himself arm in arm with his employees and promising to live off of the same pay of his lowest-paid employee. Not to miss out on a great opportunity, Price made sure the world knew about it.

 

He launched a crusade on social media; advocating for employee pay increases and calling on entrepreneurs to follow his noble path. For example Price has recently tweeted: “next time they say, “we are like a family” ask if they have ever laid someone off. You don’t lay off your family. And in another tweet “an actual good CEO would never do lay offs ever.”

 

Price was referred to as the “moral CEO.” He fought for his employees and challenged capitalist ideals in North America. He was transforming himself from startup CEO to cultural icon.

 

But, in a stark contrast to this image, earlier this year Price was charged by Seattle prosecutors with misdemeanour assault against a woman with allegations that he forcibly kissed her and grabbed her throat. He was also charged with reckless driving after doing “doughnuts” with his car in a parking lot after the woman rejected his advances. Price has pleaded not guilty and the allegations have not been proven in court. According to a recent article in the New York Times, more than a dozen women spoke to the Times about Price’s predatory behavior.

 

This August, Price tweeted his resignation as Gravity Payments CEO, calling his presence a “distraction” and that he needed to step aside to “focus full time on fighting false accusations made against me”. Price ended the tweet by saying “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Price should resign but the promise (or threat) of “not going anywhere” tears apart his carefully built reputation as a self-proclaimed employee advocate.

 

Price certainly doesn’t want to be treated like an employee now. If he was, he would have most assuredly been terminated.

 

He doesn’t care that the allegations made against him are serious, in some cases criminal, and threaten a safe working environment at Gravity. It is hard to imagine that many employees would feel safe working around a leader that is embroiled in such unsavoury allegations. His ongoing presence could introduce serious liability to the company.

 

The fact that Price is refusing to actually step away reminds us all that he is no lowly employee; he is, in fact, the one calling the shots. Price runs the show.

 

CEOs are held to a high fiduciary duty in the eyes of the law and Price created a persona that not only reinforced that duty but amplified it. He called on CEOs to be better and to be woven from an unimpeachable thread.

 

CEOs owe a duty of good faith and fidelity to their employees. They must act in the best interests of their companies; a delicate balance that is hard for even the most astute leaders to achieve.

 

Price led his employees and the public at large to expect he would always do the right thing. And while charges of misdemeanour assault do not indicate guilt, given the number of #metoo like allegations made against him it is hard to imagine a world where Price emerges pure and vindicated.

 

Price’s public charge in demanding CEO accountability has backfired and calls into question his own employment at Gravity. Social media can be your friend until it isn’t. When used to create an image that you cannot live up to, it will be relentless and unforgiving.

 

On to this week’s questions:

 

Q. I am hiring an employee, who I think can work remotely most of the time but will need to be in person for some events. Perhaps in the future I may want to transfer the role to full time. Is this possible or if I hire an employee remotely, am I stuck with him being remote forever?

 

A. Employers can contract for many terms including work location. A well crafted employment agreement allows an employer to confirm that employees explicitly agree that it would not be a constructive dismissal if the work location were to change. So, it’s possible your employee can start working remotely and shift to in-person at a later time. Communication and a contract are key to making this transition smooth.

 

Q. My employer has handed out employment agreements for employees to sign. I have never signed an employment agreement and I have worked at my company for 18 years. HR has followed up with me many times to sign the agreement (which is 27 pages). I don’t fully understand the contract. What should I do?

 

A. A new employment agreement may contain clauses that will limit some of your entitlements as a long term employee. If you can, get legal advice. If you don’t understand a contract and how it could impact you, don’t sign it without understanding it first.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com 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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