Google outlines steps to tackle workplace harassment

Tech giant moves to calm outrage that triggered a worldwide walkout of workers

Google on Thursday outlined changes to its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, hoping to calm outrage that triggered a worldwide walkout of workers last week.

“We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that,” chief executive Sundar Pichai said in a message to employees, a copy of which was shared with AFP. “It’s clear we need to make some changes.”

Arbitration of harassment claims will be optional instead of obligatory, according to Mr. Pichai, a move that could end anonymous settlements that fail to identify those accused of harassment. “Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and it still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g. personal privacy, predictability of process), but we recognize that the choice should be up to you,” he said in the memo.

Mr. Pichai promised that Google will be more transparent with how concerns are handled, and provide better support and care to those who raise such issues with the company. Google will provide “more granularity,” regarding sexual harassment investigations and their outcomes, according to Mr. Pichai.

A section of an internal “Investigations Report” will focus on sexual harassment to show numbers of substantiated concerns as well as trends and disciplinary actions, according to the California-based company.

He also said Google is consolidating the complaint system and that the process for handling concerns will include providing support people and counsellors. Google will update its mandatory sexual harassment training, and require it annually instead of every two years as had been the case.

Google is also putting the onus on team leaders to tighten the tap on booze at company events, on or off campus, to curtail the potential for drunken misbehavior. “Harassment is never acceptable and alcohol is never an excuse,” Google said in a released action statement.

Thousands of Google employees joined a coordinated worldwide walkout a week ago to protest the U.S. tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment. Some 20,000 Google employees and contractors participated in the protest in 50 cities around the world, according to organizers.

In a statement, organizers commended Google for the response, but said more changes are needed.

“We demand a truly equitable culture, and Google leadership can achieve this by putting employee representation on the board and giving full rights and protections to contract workers,” organizer Stephanie Parker said in the statement.

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