GitHub reportedly fired a Jewish employee after he posted a message in Slack that said “stay safe homies, Nazis are about” the day of the attack on the US Capitol, according to Business Insider.
The message sparked controversy inside the company, with one colleague criticizing him for using divisive language. GitHub’s HR team chastised the employee for using the word “Nazi” in a company Slack channel. Two days later, GitHub allegedly fired him, citing vague patterns of behavior. The employee asked Business Insider to remain anonymous for fear of online harassment.
The move shows a lack of understanding on the part of GitHub management, both about the gravity of the attack on the US Capitol and the contextual use of the word Nazi. After Business Insider published its report, the company was widely criticized on Twitter for trying to “both sides” the issue.
Now, roughly 200 of GitHub’s 1,700 employees have signed a letter asking executives to take a stronger stance against anti-Semitism and white supremacy. They also want to know why the employee was fired.
GitHub CEO Nat Friedman told workers that “the company is actively looking into the circumstances surrounding the separation of an employee last week and will take any and all appropriate action following a thorough investigation.”
The employee said he posted the message because he was concerned for his relatives and co-workers living in Washington, DC. He had family who died in the Holocaust and saw that some of the rioters were associated with neo-Nazi organizations.
GitHub, an open-source developer platform, was acquired by Microsoft in 2018. The day of the attack on the US Capitol, Microsoft President Brad Smith retweeted a statement calling on President Trump to “put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.” Microsoft also said it would pause political contributions, much like Facebook and Amazon.
Before his Slack account was deactivated, the employee expressed bewilderment at the blowback he’d received from his message. “I did not know that, as a Jew, it would be so polarizing to say this word,” he said in a Slack channel for Jewish employees. “We grew up saying [Nazi]. It was a story we told because we had to— the decimation of whole lines of ancestry were at the hands of people who went by that title.”
This is the second time GitHub has faced significant criticism from employees in recent years. In 2019, more than 150 workers signed a letter asking the company to cancel a $200,000 contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It also comes on the heels of recent employee activism at companies like Twitter and Google. In December, Google fired AI ethicist Timnit Gebru, prompting a wave of condemnation from tech workers across Silicon Valley.
GitHub did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.