Google settles with labor board over allegations it suppressed employees' speech in the workplace

Google on Thursday announced it had settled with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over allegations that it suppressed its employees from speaking out in the workplace.

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Under the settlement, Google will remind all of its workers that they have the right to unionize, act in concert with other employees to push for benefits, bargain with their employer and more.

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The company will offer the reminder to its workers through physical notices and its internal message boards.

“We have agreed to a proposed settlement with the NLRB of Mr Cernekee’s complaint,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “Under that settlement, we have agreed to post a notice to our employees reminding them of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.”

The settlement resolves a complaint from ex-Google engineer Kevin Cernekee, who claimed Google violated his right to band together with other employees to protest workplace conditions, as well as an NLRB complaint from an anonymous Google worker who said he faced retaliation for speaking negatively about a higher-up online.

It also emerges amid a whirlwind of allegations from current and former Google employees who claim the company has been curtailing workers’ rights to free speech following a wave of employee activism over Google’s working conditions and its ethics decisions.

Google workers have come out publicly and anonymously to allege the tech giant retaliated against them after they engaged in workplace activism, such as arranging mass walkouts and circulating petitions. 

A Google spokeswoman told The Hill the settlement on Thursday resolves all of Cernekee’s complaints to the NLRB. Publicly, Cernekee has claimed he faced discrimination within Google over his conservative views.

Google has traditionally branded itself as an open work environment where employees are allowed to express their views without fear of judgement or retaliation.

But that same ethos has enabled Google to emerge as a leader in the tech activist movement, which has grown in size and power over the past several years. Google workers have banded together to protest their own working conditions — such as the differing treatment of contract and full-time employees — as well as Google’s decisions, such as the company’s now-defunct plans to create a censored search engine for China.

The NLRB settlement on Thursday does not address politics, the Google spokeswoman told The Hill. The company is currently facing scrutiny over recent tweaks to its community guidelines, which discouraged employees from engaging in political conversations during work hours, to the chagrin of many activist employees.

As Google faces internal pressure, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have increasingly accused the search giant of censoring conservative voices, pointing to its outspoken progressive employees.

The NLRB did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. An official with the agency still has to sign off on the agreement.

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