Google Revamps Sexual Harassment After Employee Protest

By Douglas Lipsky

Google announced that it will overhaul its processes for handling sexual harassment complaints after more than 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout earlier this month. The protestors called for an end to forced arbitration in cases of sexual misconduct and changes to the related reporting procedures. The employee protests force Google to apologise for giving generous severance packages to executive accused of sexual harassment and alter its sexula harassment policies. The move comes after revelation that Google has given generous severance packages to executive accused of sexual harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

Generally there are two types of harassment. The first is quid pro quo harassment, which occurs when a person in a position of authority demands sexual favors as a condition of employment or in return for job benefits such as raises, bonuses, or promotions.

Another form of sexual harassment is referred to as hostile work environment. This involves an employee being subjected to unwelcome physical verbal, or visual conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive enough to alter the victim’s working conditions.
Examples of actions that may be considered sexual harassment include:

  • Repeated comments about an employee’s appearance
  • Commenting on the appearance of others in front of an employee
  • Repeated hugs or other unwanted touching (e.g. a hand on an employee’s back)
  • Discussing one’s sex life in front of an employee
  • Asking an employee about his or her sex life
  • Making sexual jokes
  • Circulating nude or other inappropriate photos of women or men in the workplace
  • Sending sexually suggestive text messages/emails
  • Leaving unwanted gifts of a sexual or romantic nature
  • Spreading sexual rumors about an employee

How Has Google Revised its Sexual Harassment Policy

The company stated that it will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims and overhaul its reporting process for harassment and assault. Google also said that it would provide more transparency to employees about reported incidents of sexual harassment and penalize those who fail to complete sexual harassment training.

Google did not address all of the employee demands, however, such as making an internal report on harassment public. Moreover, the new policy doesn’t apply to temporary personnel, vendors and contractors. While the organizers of the walkout said they were encouraged by the changes, they contend the new policy fails to address systemic racism and other forms of discrimination at Google.

Why This Matters
The employee walkout at Google highlights how pervasive sexual misconduct and employment discrimination is not only in the tech sector, but many other industries. That’s the bad news. The good news is that employees have powerful legal remedies under local, state and federal laws. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, you are well advised to enlist the services of an experienced employment law attorney.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.