San Francisco, CA (Law Firm Newswire) January 9, 2019 - Google announced new policies surrounding sexual harassment and assault after more than 20,000 employees participated in a worldwide walkout on November 1. The company promised to end its forced arbitration requirement for sexual misconduct complaints.
Protest organizers said that although they were encouraged by the progress, the Silicon Valley giant did not go far enough in meeting the demands they put forward. It also failed to address systemic racism and other forms of workplace discrimination.
One of the key changes Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced was that the company would make “arbitration optional for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.” However, employees questioned why the company did not extend the new arbitration policy to temporary workers and contractors, as well as other cases not related to sexual harassment.
“Forced arbitration clauses are common among tech companies, but the practice prevents employees from speaking out about their experiences and taking their claims to court,” said attorney Jason Erlich of McCormack & Erlich, a San Francisco-based employment law firm. “Instead, they are forced to privately settle the matter with the company behind closed doors.”
The protest occurred in response to reports about how Google dealt with sexual misconduct cases. The New York Times revealed in October that several accused executives were offered hefty payouts, including Android co-founder Andy Rubin who received a $90 million exit package even after he resigned over sexual harassment allegations.
“We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that,” Pichai stated in an email to staff that was posted publicly. “It’s clear we need to make some changes.”
Pichai also said Google would improve its process for reporting sexual misconduct by establishing a reporting site with live support and offering counseling to employees. In addition, there are plans to expand its compulsory sexual harassment training. Employees who fail to complete the training will have their performance ratings docked. The company also promised greater transparency and more in-depth investigations of sexual harassment allegations.
The optional arbitration policy and additional support for employees appear to be in response to the walkout. However, organizers said Pichai did not meet many of their other key demands such as appointing an employee representative to the board, requiring the chief diversity officer to report to the CEO and publicly disclosing all sexual harassment claims.
They had also called for the company to release pay gap and other internal achievement data for employees of different genders, ethnicities and races. Pichai only spoke in general terms with a pledge to “recommit” to practices that focus on fostering a more inclusive, diverse and equal workplace.
“While Google has taken a positive step in the right direction to improve its workplace culture, there is a lot more to be done,” commented Erlich. “For starters, contractors should be provided the same protections as full-time staff, and arbitration should also be made optional for discrimination, wage abuse and other complaints.”
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