After #GoogleWalkout, Google CEO rolls out new sexual harassment policies
- Google CEO Sundar Pichai emailed Google employees with an apology for the company's handling of sexual harassment, bias and other workplace issues and introduced new policies and procedures to address them. "We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It's clear we need to make some changes," he wrote in the email. His announcement followed last week's worldwide walkout organized by Google employees after news surfaced that the company paid Android creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package in 2014 following a sexual assault allegation, according to a report by The New York Times.
- In a separate statement, Google outlined its commitments and actions policies in detail. Most significantly, the company will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims (according to the note, it has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process). It will make its policies on harassment, discrimination, retaliation, standards of conduct and workplace concerns more public to workers. It will also create an investigations practice guide and publish it internally so employees understand how the company handles concerns. The policies only apply to full-time employees, however.
- In his email, Pichai acknowledged the employee feedback he received criticizing the company's actions and vowed going forward to provide more transparency in handling employees' complaints and give better support and care to those who raise concerns. The company has stated it plans to create better care services, included counselling and Employee Assistance Programs. It will also establish a new process that allows Google employees to be accompanied by a colleague when reporting harassment or discrimination claims to HR and throughout any following investigation.
Google was the target of employee backlash last week, but any HR department or company could end up in the cross hairs if employees think it has ignored, dismissed or covered up sexual harassment or misconduct. However, employers can look to Google's new sexual harassment policies for guidance in drafting their own. The tech giant uses just three broad categories — transparency, caring and respect — to define its policies, and lists systematic changes under each.
Google's optional arbitration policy is significant within the context of Silicon Valley's struggle to rid itself of sexual harassment scandals and gender-based discrimination. Uber did away with its mandatory arbitration policy for individual sexual harassment claims in May. Employees often view forced arbitration as a rigged process that favors employers and takes away their right to a court trial. Allowing arbitration to be an option, rather than a mandate, in sexual harassment cases could encourage more people to come forward as victims or witnesses of misconduct.
The organizers of the Google Walkout for Change commended the changes in a public statement, but noted that the response still ignored several of their core demands, including the demands focused on erasing racism, discrimination and "structural inequity."
"We demand a truly equitable culture, and Google leadership can achieve this by putting employee representation on the board and giving full rights and protections to contract workers, our most vulnerable workers, many of whom are Black and Brown women," organized Stephanie Parker said in the statement.
Companies don't need to wait for employees to stage a protest en masse to create strong policies and procedures surrounding sexual harassment and discrimination. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment complaints are up by more than 50%. In June, it illustrated its crackdown on harassment by highlighting seven lawsuits it levied against employers across the country. Employers looking to avoid an EEOC investigation, or a thousand-person protest, will need to create and implement a thorough policy that protects the workplace and its workers against harassment of all kinds.