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After walkout, Google will stop forcing sexual harassment victims into secret arbitration

After walkout, Google will stop forcing sexual harassment victims into secret arbitration
[Photo: Paweł Czerwiński/Unsplash]

In an email to employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google will now give employees with sexual harassment claims the option to privately arbitrate or file a lawsuit. The change in policy comes a week after 20,000 employees staged a walkout protesting Google’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.

“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,” Pichai wrote in the email, which has since been made public. He will discuss the new initiative with employees at a town hall today.

In a document sent to employees, Google committed to overhauling its process for responding to employees’ most sensitive cases, creating a specialty team that will focus on sexual harassment and discrimination claims. Further supports are being introduced, too. Employees will be offered regular check-ins throughout the investigation and assistance with counseling services, time off, and coordinating a new place to live if needed. It’s also piloting a program wherein sexual harassment claimants can have a colleague accompany them to their meetings with human resources.

There was also a promise of more transparency within its Investigations Report, to make clear the status of investigations as well as actions taken to remediate a claim. The company also plans to make its workplace conduct standards more visible and create a manual for employees outlining exactly what to expect once an investigation is initiated. Sexual harassment training will be required and employees will get docked on performance reviews if they don’t attend every two years.

Google employees were emboldened to walk out after news broke that the company was padding the exits of men accused of sexual harassment with millions of dollars in severance. When they staged a protest on November 1, they made five demands. Pichai’s announcement responds directly to many of them. However, a call for pay and opportunity inequity across race and gender was left unaddressed. The only comment made regarding equity was a recommittal to meet certain diversity goals and a reminder that the chief diversity officer can submit proposals to the company’s board of directors on matters of pay, inclusion, and culture.

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