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Utah CEO under fire after praising employee who sold their dog to return to the office

A Utah tech CEO is facing backlash after a clip of him questioning the capabilities of working mothers and praising an employee for getting rid of her pet to meet a new in-office mandate went viral.

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In a nine-minute video, James Clarke, CEO of Salt Lake City–based digital marketing firm Clearlink, was seen telling employees during a town hall event that staff needed to give their “blood, sweat, and tears” during working hours.

However, he alleged that many of the company’s remote workers were not “working hard at all,” claiming some had “quietly quit but are taking a paycheck,” others were potentially working several jobs at once, and some were even using A.I. to fulfill their duties.

“I could do that in 30 minutes of an eight-hour workday,” he said. “So, what do we need to do? Let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production, or substantially more of our production. We don’t need perfect, we just need good.

"We just need you to show up and give an honest day’s hard work—blood, sweat, and tears—[then] you go home to your families and enjoy what’s really important.”

“Things that do not grow are on a path to die,” he added.

Clarke went on to suggest he worked harder than any of his employees.

“I challenge any one of you to outwork me, but you won’t,” he insisted. “I’m all in in what we’re doing here at Clearlink, and I want you to know it and feel it. I’ve sacrificed, and those of you that are here have sacrificed greatly to be here as well to be away from your family.”

Earlier this month, Clarke reportedly sent out a staff memo that said employees who lived within 50 miles of headquarters must start working from the office four days a week, starting April 17.

In the video clip from the town hall, seen by Fortune, Clarke praised an unnamed working mom who sold her family dog so that she could comply with the return-to-office mandate.

“One of our leaders, in the midst of hearing this message, went out and sold their family dog, which breaks my heart,” he said. “But truly, those are the sacrifices that are being made, and I honor you for those sacrifices.”

Another working mother—a vice president at the company—also received praise from Clarke in the clip for opting to cut down to part-time hours in order to balance work and childcare, with the CEO expressing skepticism over anyone’s ability to do both to a high standard.

“Breadwinning mothers were hit the hardest by this pandemic,” he said.

“Many of you have tried to tend to your own children and also manage your demanding work schedules and responsibilities. And while I know you’re doing your best—some would say they’ve even mastered this art—one could also argue that generally, this path is neither fair to your employer nor fair to those children.”

Clarke went on to claim that he did not “necessarily believe that,” but he argued that “only the rarest of full-time caregivers can also be productive full-time employees at the same time.”

“[This is] not a criticism of the noble nature of motherhood nor the ability to do both well. It’s not,” he insisted.

“But there are only so many waking hours in each day, and it is this value-for-value exchange that is rarely optimized. It can be done, but it adds so much stress to a working mother’s life that I would never want to put that on anyone.”

The clip of Clarke’s impassioned speech didn’t land well with social media users.

“Pay your employees what you make—hell, one quarter of what you make—and they will be all in too,” one Reddit user commented.

“I feel like leaders need to start hiring speechwriters so that they know who their audience is,” another suggested.

“So, fathers have no obligation to help raise their children?” one questioned in another of the nearly 500 comments posted below the video.

A spokesperson for Clearlink told Fortune when asked about the response to the clip: "To help achieve our collective goals, Clearlink recently announced a return to office of four days a week for the majority of our Utah-based employees. We look forward to having these team members join us at our new world-class global headquarters in Draper, Utah, and appreciate the efforts of all of our committed team members—which includes those who work in office and those who will continue to work remotely—as we accomplish our best work together."

Clarke isn’t the only CEO to come under fire in recent weeks thanks to a viral video.

Earlier this week, MillerKnoll CEO Andi Owen woke up to an onslaught of backlash after an outburst in which she told staff who were worried about their bonuses to “leave Pity City” was caught on tape and shared online.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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