- Google workers Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton accused Google of retaliating against them after they attempted to organize workers, according to reporting by Fortune. Whittaker's and Stapleton's efforts include the worker-led walkout, in which 20,000 employees protested what they described as the company's mishandling of sexual harassment claims and workplace policies around equity and transparency policies.
- Fortune said it obtained an internal letter in which Whittaker and Stapleton wrote of how their efforts to organize workers were met with retaliation. Stapleton said Google demoted her two months after the walkout and noted that she was told to take medical leave, despite not being sick, when she notified HR of the situation, Fortune wrote. After employees voiced their concerns and Google dissolved its artificial intelligence ethics council in early April, Whittaker alleged she learned she had to halt her work on AI ethics.
- Whittaker and Stapleton said they are not alone in facing retaliation. In a statement emailed to Fortune, a Google spokesperson denied the retaliation allegations and defended its policy to investigate claims.
When employees participating in the November #GoogleWalkout gave their demands, they echoed larger employment struggles. They protested against, for example, forced arbitration, pay inequity and opaque approaches to the topic of sexual harassment, among other things — topics that have become key issues within employment and HR. Whittaker's and Stapleton's claims of retaliation have the same resonance; retaliation charges represented more than half of the 76,418 workplace discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2018.
If it was important for HR professionals to take note of Google workers' demands in November, they may want to pay attention to this new thread in the story, as well. Retaliation is a charge no employer wants to face — costly consequences often follow violations of Equal Employment Opportunity laws, which prohibit such behavior. Managers must be warned against making decisions or taking actions that could be interpreted as retaliation against employees who voice concerns or file complaints about workplace conditions.
Additionally, the National Labor Relations Act "forbids employers from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of rights relating to organizing, forming, joining or assisting a labor organization for collective bargaining purposes, or from working together to improve terms and conditions of employment, or refraining from any such activity," the National Labor Relations Board says on its website.
It's worth noting, too, that Google has made changes following employee concerns. Following months of protest, Google confirmed in an email to HR Dive that it would require employers of its U.S. vendor and temporary workers to provide benefits, which include a $15 minimum wage, healthcare, family leave and tuition reimbursement. Although Google made the changes, it received pressure from outside parties. More recently, an ex-employee alleged that Google discouraged him from talking to the press after he resigned in protest of the organization's surveillance-related work for Project Dragonfly. For Google and other employers, heeding employees' ethical concerns and listening to their needs might enhance their culture and outward-facing brand.