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CEO sparks backlash after praising employee who sold family dog after return-to-office mandate

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More companies forcing employees back into offices 05:13

Clearlink CEO James Clarke is drawing fire on social media for a leaked video in which he praises an employee for selling "their family dog" in order to return to the office and speaks dismissively of working women with children. He also takes aim at remote workers, claiming that 30 of his employees didn't open their laptops for a month. 

"Some of our developers could be working for two different companies — we don't know," he says in the video, which was posted by Vice. 

The video of the town hall meeting came after Clarke mandated that workers return to the office, according to Vice. Clarke noted that employees were making sacrifices to do so, mentioning the sale of the dog as an example. 

"I've sacrificed and those of you here are have sacrificed greatly to be here as well," Clarke said, adding that one of his "leaders" told him of another employee who "went out and sold their family dog."

"That breaks my heart as someone who has been at the head of the humanization of pets business and other businesses we have built," continued the CEO, who served as board member and chair of pet health provider, PetIQ, from 2011-2016, according to his LinkedIn page. "But, truly, those are the sacrifices that are being made and I honor you for those sacrifices," he said.

Clearlink, a digital marketing company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Clarke's comments in the 3 minute, 47-second video clip are being described as "unhinged," "an HR nightmare" and "insane" on social media. The clip comes just days after another CEO, MillerKnoll leader Andi Owen, was skewered for her video address to employees telling them to "leave Pity City" after some staff members expressed concern about staying motivated if they didn't get bonuses this year. Owen received a pay package of almost $5 million last year.

In the video, Clarke focuses his criticism not on issues related to pay, but rather on his perception of loyalty and work ethics among his workforce. He appears to single out his employees who are women with children (although in the clip, he doesn't mention working fathers).

"Generally this path is neither fair to your employer nor fair to those children," he says. "That is not a criticism of the noble nature of motherhood, but there are only so many working hours in the day."

Clearlink's website describes the company as an employer that "can offer its employees much more than a paycheck" and touts its work-life balance, noting that it has "a generous paid-time-off policy." The company also states that it "proudly follows the Parity Pledge to help us move toward gender and racial parity."

Social media users noted that Clarke's comments appear to undermine the company's stated goal of fostering a work-life balance. 

"And this is why you can't trust a company's 'values,'" one Twitter user wrote. "They respect work/life balance so much that you can't even own a dog."

Clarke's LinkedIn profile says that he's a graduate of Brigham Young University and that he received a master's from Oxford University's Said School of Management.  

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