Google employees staged a walkout globally last Thursday on November 1, 2018 after a report was released by the New York Times stating that Google gave the co-creator of Android, Andy Rubin, a severance package of $90 million after he was forced to quit based on several sexual misconduct complaints. Employees across various offices demanded improvement in the way the management treated sexual-harassment allegations, discrimination, and inequality.
The 5 changes that the employees demanded were:
- An end to forced arbitration in cases relating to sexual harassment and discrimination.
- A commitment to end inequality in pay and opportunity.
- The sexual harassment transparency report to be publicly displayed across all offices.
- A inclusive and safe process to report sexual misconduct.
- Have an employee representation in the board as well as to give authority to the Chief Diversity Officer to report and give recommendations directly to the CEO.
On November 8, 2018 Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, circulated a mail to all the staff of Google in response which read “It’s clear that to live up to the high bar we set for Google, we need to make some changes. Going forward, we will provide more transparency into how you raise concerns and how we handle them.” The email interalia included the following changes suggested by the management:
- Arbitration will be made optional for individual sexual harassment and leaving the choice of path to legal action to the employees. However, this does not apply to discrimination cases.
- A new section to be added in the investigations report focused on sexual harassment capturing vital information disciplinary actions taken, substantiation percentages, etc which will be made available to the employees. Further, workplace policies and processes on harassment, discrimination, standards of conduct, etc to be made public.
- Compulsory sexual harassment training every year instead of once every two years.
- Employees can now be accompanied by a companion during an HR investigation, or when raising/reporting any harassment or discrimination concerns to the HR.
- Google’s Chief Diversity Officer will continue to lead monthly discussions with Google Leads and the CEO on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion and provide recommendations directly to the Board of Directors through the Leadership Development and Compensation Committee on such matters.
- Google agreed to investigate all matters in which a complaint is made by a temporary, vendor and contract employees(T-V-C) against an employee, and require that suppliers do the same for complaints against T-V-Cs and report back to Google on any complaints.
- Google’s forced arbitration clause which compelled employees to seek private arbitration in cases of sexual harassment were legally questionable as the Sexual harassment Policy of US clearly states that “ If a resolution is not reached (during internal mediation within the organisation), the parties may continue to pursue their rights in any other appropriate forum. Employees may ask for the assistance of a mediator by contacting Office of Civil Rights”. The same applies in India’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 (POSH) where after the grievance is addressed in Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), the employee has the right to approach the court for further relief.
- Google, based on the study that 20% of the sexual misconducts were reported on employees who were drunk at the time of the act, has introduced the 2 drink rule where no employee can have more than 2 drinks at any office related social events in addition to the no alcohol policy at workplace. Enforcing this rule could be highly problematic and for this reason, it could be ineffective.
- The legal consequences of the new rules on the subsidiaries is something we have to wait and see. It will also be interesting to see the public’s reaction to the disclosures promised by Google.
- In the wake of this incident, Facebook on Saturday i.e. November 10, 2018 said it will no longer require employees to resolve sexual harassment claims via forced arbitration.