Tech

Hundreds of Google employees call on company to change sexual misconduct policies that they say put the burden on survivors

  • Google’s employee union calls on company to change the way it handles sexual-misconduct allegations.
  • It demands that Google end the ‘insidious process’ of pushing survivors to seek mental health care.
  • Previous reports said Google advised mental health care for employees who reported sexism, racism.

Hundreds of Google employees have signed a petition calling on the company to improve the way it handles cases of sexual harassment, and accusing it of “pushing” employees to seek mental health support when they allege instances of harassment.

The demands come after a Google employee named Ming Tao publicly claimed she was raped by a colleague and accused the company of dragging her through a bureaucratic process that made her feel “helpless.”

In an interview with Insider, Tao said she had been in touch with human resources and had received resources on therapy from Google’s employment assistance program (EAP), but she said there’s been a lack of transparency around the investigation. She also said that while she was already on leave when she reported the incident, she has since had her corporate access cut off. 

Google said Tao is still a full-time employee, and it is currently investigating her allegations.

“We have been in frequent contact with Ming during her leave, and continue to provide support and make resources available to her. We take her complaint incredibly seriously, and we’re actively working on this matter,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Google’s handling of sexual-misconduct allegations has been a hot-button topic for the company in recent years. In 2018, Google employees held a walk-out in protest of how Google allegedly protected senior executives who were accused of sexual misconduct. 

That same year, Google announced that it would “give better support and care” to employees who raise concerns, and would no longer force its employees making sexual-harassment claims into private arbitration.

Now, the Alphabet Workers Union — a minority union of more than 800 workers at Google and its parent company — is demanding the company stop pushing employees into its EAP therapy program when they face harassment. The union claims the program is not designed to protect employees and that it instead puts the burden on survivors to seek therapy or take leave, which could negatively affect their career at the company.

“Countless walkouts, resignations, petitions, and heartbreaking stories of abuse later, Google still has not changed their attitude and processes regarding sexual harassment,” the union wrote. So far, more than 700 Alphabet workers and 4,000 people outside the company have signed the petition.

The petition also asks that sexual assault survivors continue to be compensated, even if they are on leave. The demand came after Tao accused the company of initially not paying her while on leave.

After Insider messaged Google for comment, Tao said the company told her it would pay her during her leave. A Google spokesperson then told Insider that the initial lack of pay was “due to a technicality where we need her medical documentation to process her leave,” and that Tao would be compensated for this time, including back pay.

Current and former employees say Google promotes mental health services instead of dealing with harassment

The company’s frequent promotion of EAP and other counseling services is at the center of the union’s most recent call for change.

In April, the Alphabet Workers Union published a separate petition asking Alphabet to require harassers to change teams so their accusers do not have to work with them, and also to disallow harassers from managing or leading a team. The petition cited a story published in The New York Times by former Google employee Emi Nietfeld, who accused Google of forcing her to continue working with her alleged harasser and encouraging her to seek counseling or take leave while they were investigating.

Chelsey Glasson, a former Google employee, told Insider she faced pregnancy discrimination and retaliation from her manager, but when she reported these incidents, the only support she received was encouragement to take advantage of medical leave. Days after Glasson gave birth in 2019, she said Google asked her to leave the company in exchange for a settlement. She has since been outspoken against the company’s reliance on EAP.

In March, NBC reported that Google had also advised mental health care for some employees who reported instances of sexism and racism at work.

A Google spokesperson said that the company reviews and refines its policies and processes regularly, while pointing to recent changes such as the introduction of an investigations care program to support employees during and after an investigation.

“We take any allegations or concerns extremely seriously and do everything we can to support people who report a complaint,” the spokesperson said. “Last year we announced more than 50 industry-leading, detailed changes to our workplace policies, including how we investigate and provide care support for people who raise complaints. We’ve also published our annual Internal Investigations Report for the last seven years to provide transparency about employee-related investigations.”

They added: “To be clear, we never require people to go on leave or use our third party assistance program—these options exist solely to provide the best possible care to our employees if they choose to use them. The misinformation being pushed regarding this benefit is an irresponsible and harmful message to employees, because counselling and support have been extremely beneficial for so many. These resources are in no way a substitute to Google investigating and addressing the matter they have reported.”

Raksha Muthukumar, spokesperson for the Alphabet Workers Union and a former Google employee who left the company in June, said the union is concerned Google is using its mental health resources to gloss over other concerns from employees, like further transparency and delays in action against harassers.

“Do you not have enough people doing investigations?” Muthukumar said of Google. “Do you not have enough people in HR? Those are problems that need to be addressed. There’s no reason to sit in this limbo.”

“Ultimately it strongly benefits the abusers. Survivors are more likely to leave if they’re forced to stay on the team,” Muthukumar said. “By choosing neutrality or delaying tactics, it feels punitive although on their side it seems neutral.”

Do you have more to share? Got a tip? Contact reporter Hugh Langley at [email protected] or on encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram at +1 628-228-1836.

Got a tip about Google Cloud? Contact reporter Rosalie Chan via email at [email protected], Signal at 646-376-6106, Telegram at @rosaliechan, or Twitter DM at @rosaliechan17. (PR pitches by email only, please.) Other types of secure messaging available upon request.



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