Walkout Wins; Google Responds To Employees Protest
By Sofy Robertson
At the beginning of the month, Grow reported on the Google walkout where over 20 000 employees staged a protest against the company’s handling of cases of sexual misconduct.
The workers of Google called for an end to arbitration, among other changes, as part of their walkout. The protest was prompted by a New York Times article that revealed exit packages were given to some senior executives after accusations of sexual harassment.
Many media outlets criticised the walkout and predicted that it would have little or no effect on the company’s policies. However, Google has not ignored the actions of its 20 000 or more employees.
Yesterday, Google responded, saying it would end its practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or assault.
In an email to staff, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, said he was altering the sexual harassment policies because:
“as C.E.O., I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m committed to making the changes we need to improve. We will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.” (NY Times)
In the public memo, Pichai wrote about the decision to end arbitration, a quasi-legal private dispute resolution process that often favours corporations over individuals:
“Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g. personal privacy) but, we recognise that choice should be up to you.” (ARS Technica)
The company has also paid attention to another issue raised by the walkout; the transparency of incidents reported to the company. Pichai said Google would overhaul its reporting process for harassment and assault, providing more transparency to its employees. They will also dock employees in their performance reviews if they do not complete sexual harassment training.
In a longer document released by Google, the company also declared that it would be changing the way it conducts internal investigations. There will now be a
“global process that will allow Googlers to be accompanied by a companion during an HR investigation, or when raising/reporting any harassment or discrimination concerns to HR.”
Although not all of the demands brought by Google workers were addressed, the organisers behind last week’s walkout were encouraged by the changes that Google would be implementing. In December 2017, Microsoft announced that it would end forced arbitration, but few, if any other major tech firms have followed suit. This marks a landmark decision for Google, and one that was prompted entirely by the voices, or rather actions, of its employees.
A blueprint for change has been made, affirming the power of the employee and asserting that the voice of an individual, in this case the voice of many individuals, can be heard and heeded by the big players in the game.