As an employee, you have rights. You may not be aware of all these rights, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. And now, if you're a Google employee, you have more rights than the average employee.
In a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Google agreed to post a list of rights that employees have. Most of these, such as the right to discuss your salary with co-workers, the right to unionize, and the right not to be retaliated against, are standard rights protected by the federal government. In fact, you should have posters in your workplace that detail those rights.
But this settlement includes more than those standard rights that we all have, and they indicate a bit of what was going on at Google. For instance, there is this (formatting is in the original):
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions with other employees, the press/media, and other third parties, and WE WILL NOT do anything to interfere with your exercise of those rights.
The first part is standard--the National Labor Relations Act protects the right of employees to discuss their "wages, hours, and working conditions" with other employees. This is called concerted activity. It's why your boss can't, legally, fire you for discussing your salary with your co-workers. Managers are exempt from this federal rule.
The Google settlement seems to extend that protection to everyone. But the striking thing is that it guarantees employees' rights to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions with "the press/media, and other third parties."
That's a strange right--to talk to the press. Many companies prohibit employees from speaking to the press. But Google has been in the news so often with stories of people saying they were mistreated, that perhaps the NLRB felt that guaranteeing employees the right to go to the press would help keep things under control.
This part is also interesting:
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT to freely bring workplace diversity issues and requests to clarify permissible workplace behavior to us on behalf of yourself and other employees and WE WILL NOT do anything to interfere with your exercise of that right.
WE WILL NOT threaten employees because they presented workplace diversity issues to us and requested clarifications of permissible workplace behavior.
After the James Damore incidents, I suspect Google and the NLRB were keenly aware of the hit to their reputations for how they handled that controversy over discussions about diversity.
These are rights that most other employees have (if you have under 15 employees, Title VII doesn't apply). You have the right to present issues involving race, gender, and other protected classes to management's attention without facing retaliation. This just spells it out clearly.
This particular right has some clever wording:
WE WILL NOT make it appear to you that we are watching out for your protected concerted activities or ask that you report other employees who are engaging in protected concerted activity regarding their wages, hours, and working conditions.
Note that it doesn't say "WE WILL NOT watch out for your protected concerted activities," just that "WE WILL NOT make it appear to you that we are watching out for your protected concerted activities."
If they meant the former, they shouldn't have written it this way. I suspect they mean precisely what they said--they won't let you know you're being watched, but they sure will still watch you.
This settlement comes after Kevin Cernekee filed a suit claiming discrimination based on political ideology. While political ideology isn't protected under federal law, it is protected under California law. Google maintains that it fired Cernekee because of a rules violation. This is probably why so much of this new "bill of rights" specifies the policies that they are withdrawing.
The whole Google employee rights list is interesting. It may be something you'd like to think about for your business. While I don't think you need to guarantee the right for your employees to speak to the press, if you treat them properly, you don't have a great deal to fear.