Sam Altman is ‘embarrassed’ that OpenAI threatened to revoke equity if exiting employees wouldn’t sign an NDA

Sam Altman is ‘embarrassed’ that OpenAI threatened to revoke equity if exiting employees wouldn’t sign an NDA

OpenAI reportedly made exiting employees choose between keeping their vested equity and being able to speak out against the company. According to , which viewed the document in question, employees could “lose all vested equity they earned during their time at the company, which is likely worth millions of dollars” if they didn’t sign a nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreement, thanks to a provision in the off-boarding papers. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman confirmed in a on Saturday evening that such a provision did exist, but said “we have never clawed back anyone’s vested equity, nor will we do that if people do not sign a separation agreement (or don’t agree to a non-disparagement agreement).”

An OpenAI spokesperson echoed this in a statement to Vox, and Altman said the company “was already in the process of fixing the standard exit paperwork over the past month or so.” But as Vox notes in its report, at least one former OpenAI employee has spoken publicly about sacrificing equity by declining to sign an NDA upon leaving. Daniel Kokotajlo recently on an online forum that this decision led to the loss of equity likely amounting to “about 85 percent of my family’s net worth at least.”

In Altman’s response, the CEO apologized and said he was “embarrassed” after finding out about the provision, which he claims he was previously unaware of. “[T]here was a provision about potential equity cancellation in our previous exit docs; although we never clawed anything back, it should never have been something we had in any documents or communication,” he wrote on X. “this is on me and one of the few times i’ve been genuinely embarrassed running openai; i did not know this was happening and i should have [sic].” In addition to acknowledging that the company is changing the exit paperwork, Altman went on to say, “[I]f any former employee who signed one of those old agreements is worried about it, they can contact me and we’ll fix that too.”

All of this comes after two more high-profile resignations from OpenAI this week. OpenAI co-founder and Chief Scientist that he was leaving the company, and was followed soon after by Jan Leike, who was a team leader on OpenAI’s .

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