November 09, 2018

Google would end practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment: CEO Sundar Pichai


On November 8, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai stated that Google would end the practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or assault.

This statement comes after more than 20,000 employees staged a walkout to protest how Google handles cases of sexual misconduct. Workers at Google had called for an end to arbitration, among other reforms. The protest came after it was revealed that Google had given a senior executive a $90 million exit package even after it had found that he had been credibly accused of sexual harassment.

In his email, Pichai said, “At Google, we try hard to build a workplace that supports our employees and empowers them to do their best work. As CEO, I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m committed to making the changes we need to improve. Over the past few weeks, Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared.”

Pichai added, “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.”

He concluded, “Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.”

As part of the necessary steps to be taken in this regard, Pichai in his email reported a comprehensive action plan as follows:

• Google will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. 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 it recognizes that choice should be up to employees.

• Google will provide more granularity around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes at the company as part of its Investigation Report.

• Google is revamping the way it handles and looks into employee concerns in three ways: Google is overhauling its reporting channels by bringing them together on one dedicated site and including live support. Google will enhance the processes it uses to handle concerns—including the ability for Googlers to be accompanied by a support person. And the company will offer extra care and resources for Googlers during and after the process. This includes extended counseling and career support.

• Google will update and expand its mandatory sexual harassment training. From now on, if employees don’t complete their training, they will receive a one-rating dock in Perf (performance review system).

• Google will recommit to its company-wide OKR around diversity, equity, and inclusion again in 2019, focused on improving representation—through hiring, progression, and retention—and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone. The company’s Chief Diversity Officer will continue to provide monthly progress updates to CEO Pichai and his leadership team.

However, critics stated that the commitments made were inadequate, failed to address pay disparities, and ignored demands to improve the rights of temporary employees and contractors.

Walkout organizers had demanded a “commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity” and stated that the “company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone”.

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