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Google Changes Harassment, Assault Policies after Mass Employee Protest

Google CEO announced a number of internal changes Thursday in response to global employee walkouts over the company’s handling of sexual harassment.

Among the changes, the company will no longer force employees with sexual assault or harassment claims into arbitration.

The elimination of forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases is one of several sweeping changes Google employees called for with a coordinated protests at Google offices one week ago. Notably, the policy update does not apply to all discrimination claims.

“We 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, we recognize that choice should be up to you,” wrote Google CEO Sundar Pichai in an email to staff, published in a blog post, explaining its policy updates.

The company hosted a town hall with employees shortly after the post published.

The walkout was sparked by outrage over a New York Times investigation published October 25 that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations and secret multimillion-dollar severance packages for executives accused of misconduct.

“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.

The company also pledged to call out the number of sexual harassment claims and substantiated rates within its Internal Investigations report, according to a more detailed policy memo linked out in the blog post. However, the company does not plan to make this information public, despite the request to do so by the protest organizers.

Pichai said the company will update and expand its sexual harassment training, and employees are now required to complete training annually instead of every two years. It will also overhaul how it deals with employee concerns. Google said it will offer “extra care and resources” for staffers, including extended counseling and career support for those filing concerns.

Google also spelled out the need to crack down on alcohol consumption, which is frequently noted in harassment complaints. The company specified “harassment is never acceptable and alcohol is never an excuse.” Leaders at the company are “expected to create teams, events, offsites and environments in which excessive alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged,” the memo said.

However, not all changes demanded by employees have been addressed, including a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity. Employees requested Google’s chief diversity officer, Danielle Brown, report directly to Pichai, to signal how seriously the company sees diversity and inclusion. Workers also pushed Google to add an employee representative to the board. But the company did not address these requests in its policy updates.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, organizers said while they “commend” the progress, “the response ignored several of the core demands — like elevating the diversity officer and employee representation on the board — and troublingly erased those focused on racism, discrimination, and the structural inequity built into the modern day Jim Crow class system that separates ‘full time’ employees from contract workers.”

Some Google’s contract workers spoke out on Twitter following the announcement, stating they were “excluded” from the town hall that took place Thursday.

“This deliberate slight demonstrates the caste-like system deployed by Google, which fails to protect its workers and our colleagues,” the Tech Workers Coalition tweeted.

Google Walkout organizers stated at the time “all employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe.”