Two months after thousands of Google employees around the world walked out of their offices to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment claims, workers again united to speak out on the issue--this time on social media.
On Tuesday, a group called Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, launched a social media campaign to pressure their employer and other Silicon Valley companies to change their policies. The protests took place on Twitter and Instagram from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, where employees posted facts and testimonials from workers who have been affected by the practice. Forced arbitration generally means that workers cannot take their employers to court over workplace issues like sexual harassment and assault and must settle their disputes behind closed doors.
In response to the first protest, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai posted on the company's site in November: "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." The company then made forced arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment claims. Soon after, companies like Facebook and Airbnb followed suit.
"The change yielded a win in the headlines, but provided no meaningful gains for worker equity ... nor any actual change in employee contracts or future offer letters," the organizers wrote in a Medium post Monday. As of publication of the post, the group confirmed that Google still sends out offer letters with the old arbitration policy.
The group called on Google and other tech companies--including Netflix, Uber, and Adecco--to change their policies in three ways: make arbitration optional for all types of disputes, not just for employees but also for contractors and vendors; end all class-action waivers that prohibit employees from filing lawsuits together; and eliminate gag rules on arbitration policies.
The issue of arbitration is not just a Google or tech issue. According to a 2017 study by left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, more than 60 million American workers are subject to mandatory employment arbitration procedures. Advocacy groups, academics, and politicians have supported Google employees' concerns.
"Google workers around the world, I hear you, we hear you, we need you. We need your voice to speak out, not just to Silicon Valley, but to companies across the planet that force arbitration agreements are a thing of the past," said Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who represents San Francisco and San Mateo counties, in a video posted on Twitter.
Standing w/ Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration & their public awareness campaign. Did you know forced arbitration denies 60 million Americans access to basic rights? In the era of #MeToo #TimesUp it's clear that it's time to #EndForcedArbitration pic.twitter.com/WnNAw5yYn0-; Jackie Speier (@JackieSpeier) January 15, 2019
In response, some tech employees and founders, including Lazlo Block--Google's former head of people operations and a co-founder of Humu, a startup that uses machine learning to foster better teamwork--responded that their companies don't include an arbitration agreement in the paperwork:
We don't have arbitration agreements at @humuinc either. Seems wrong - like slipping weirdly onerous language into a TOS. Any other start-ups out there without them?-; Laszlo Bock (@LaszloBock) January 15, 2019
"Ending forced arbitration is the gateway change needed to transparently address inequity in the workplace," the organizers wrote.
In response to a request for comment from Inc., a Google spokesperson said Tuesday night that the company's new hire letters were modified back in November to say that forced arbitration was optional in sexual harassment and assault claims. The company has not, however, responded to the group's latest demands.