- Alphabet, the parent company of Google, "does not provide a safe environment for those who face harassment in the workplace," a group of more than 1,700 employees said in an April 9 public letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
- The letter claims the existence of a "long pattern where Alphabet protects the harasser instead of protecting the person harmed by the harassment," citing instances in which alleged harassers received "exit packages" upon resigning and others in which harassers continued to work alongside victims who reported them. The letter's authors called on Alphabet to adopt policies prohibiting harassers from managing or leading internal teams and mandating that harassers change teams in cases of verified harassment — similar, they said, to existing company policies on consensual, romantic relationships.
- "We're deeply aware of the importance of this issue," a Google spokesperson told HR Dive in an email. "We work to support and protect people who report concerns, thoroughly investigate all claims and take firm actions against substantiated allegations. We've made significant improvements to our overall process, including the way we handle and investigate employee concerns, and introducing new care programs for employees who report concerns. Reporting misconduct takes courage and we'll continue our work to improve our processes and support for the people who do."
Alphabet employees published the letter just two days following the publication of a New York Times opinion piece in which Emi Nietfeld, a former Google software engineer, detailed her allegations of harassment perpetrated by a company lead. Despite Nietfeld's claims being corroborated by investigators, "[m]y harasser still sat next to me," she wrote. "My manager told me H.R. wouldn't even make him change his desk, let alone work from home or go on leave."
The tech giant is no stranger to criticism of its practices regarding harassment allegations. In 2019, a Google shareholder sued the company over its handling sexual assault and harassment allegations against several executives, claiming that three executives received large payments from Alphabet and Google. One year prior, Google employees worldwide staged a walkout in which they demanded, among other changes, that the company end policies requiring workers to individually arbitrate harassment and discrimination claims.
In response to the latter criticism, Google ended in 2019 its use of mandatory arbitration agreements. Last year, Alphabet agreed to settle a lawsuit that alleged board members "participated in or acquiesced to a culture that fostered a long-standing pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination" for $310 million.
But authors of the April 9 letter said the company still has not met the demands raised during the 2018 walkout, claiming that temporary, vendor and contractor workers as well as Alphabet employees who are not employees of Google still face mandatory arbitration policies.
A document that describes Google's policy on harassment, discrimination, retaliation, standards of conduct, and workplace concerns states that employees who violate the policy "are subject to discipline, including but not limited to: coaching, training, a verbal warning, a written warning, impact to performance ratings, impact to compensation, or termination of employment." The company also announced in 2019 that it would expand a program allowing workers to bring a colleague to workplace harassment and discrimination investigations.
Last year, the company shuffled its people operations leadership amid the pandemic, but it continues to face a variety of criticisms from current and former employees on issues including, but not limited to, its handling of harassment.
One group of Google employees announced in January the creation of the Alphabet Workers' Union, which has not sought certification from the National Labor Relations Board and operates as a minority union. "From fighting the ‘real names' policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who've committed sexual harassment, we've seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively," Nicki Anselmo, the union's program manager, said in the announcement. "Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade."