Activision fired two testers for 'profane' language, now a major tech union is filing charges

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Update: Since this piece was published, Activision has provided PCG with two extra statements. A company spokesperson clarified further that Activision feels it is "focused on building a culture of inclusiveness. We have a workplace Code of Conduct policy that has been consistently shared with employees, and when that policy is clearly violated, we take appropriate disciplinary action". 

Regarding the voicemail mentioned in the original story, in which Activision CEO Bobby Kotick told an assistant he would have her killed, Activision said "A hyperbolic voicemail left in jest 16 years ago, which the recipient clearly understood as not being serious, has nothing in common with the recent profane slurs used for the intentional abuse of a colleague. Each situation was handled commensurately".

Original story: The Communications Workers of America (CWA), the labour union behind several recent organising efforts at Activision Blizzard development studios, is filing charges directly against Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. Spotted by Kotaku, the CWA alleges that the company violated the law when it fired two QA testers last February.

The fired QA testers were two of many employees who took umbrage with Activision's recent attempts to get its employees back in the office. The CWA says that staff have taken issue with the back-to-the-office plans, "citing cost of living concerns and the impact it would have on their co-workers who might be forced out of their jobs". The two testers, in particular, expressed their dissatisfaction "using strong language". Activision, whose CEO once told an assistant he was going to have her killed, fired them for it.

The CWA says that outbursts and strong language were protected by the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) until 2020, when the Trump administration "systematically rolled back workers’ rights". In the charges it's filed, the CWA alleges that the firing actually happened in response to the employees' "engagement in protected, concerted and union activity," and that Activision "improperly denied a request to have a coworker witness the disciplinary meeting" in which the pair's firing took place.

In a statement to PC Gamer, an Activision spokesperson said that "Protesting doesn’t mean having the right to abuse, harass, or use slurs against colleagues," in reference to the strong language apparently used by the fired staffers. "We don’t tolerate that kind of behaviour and we’re disappointed the CWA is advocating for it," said Activision.

Unsurprisingly, the CWA is unconvinced by those kinds of ripostes. "Firing two employees for joining with their co-workers to express concern around hasty return to office policies is retaliation, point blank," said a CWA spokesperson, calling Activision an "unscrupulous" employer and declaring that "workers should have the right to express themselves".

The relationship between the CWA and Activision is long, fraught, and almost entirely antagonistic at this point. The two entities have hashed out countless battles over Activision's workers before the NLRB in the last year alone, with the labour board usually finding in favour of the CWA. Most recently, the CWA even penned a letter to EU regulators, imploring them to greenlight Microsoft's acquisition of the company, since it believes dealing with Microsoft would be immensely preferable to contending with Activision's "management intransigence". That the Microsoft acquisition should go through is, perhaps, the only thing the union and Activision's executives agree on.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.