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Google settles with labor board over employee speech

Google
Google said it will post notices to remind employees of their federal rights under the terms of a settlement.
(Walter Bieri / Associated Press)

Google has reached a settlement over employees’ ability to speak out about workplace issues after a former worker filed a complaint.

Under the settlement with the National Labor Relations Board, Google said, the company will post notices to remind employees of their federal rights. That includes the ability to talk to one another about workplace conditions and push for changes such as pay raises and safety improvements.

A Wall Street Journal report says the tech giant also has to make sure employees know they are allowed to discuss matters with the media and with one another. Google did not specifically address how employees can talk about issues outside the company, and the NLRB has not yet made the settlement agreement public.

Employees of Alphabet Inc.’s Google are known for being some of the most outspoken in the tech industry and have advocated for such topics as equal pay and sexual misconduct investigations. Thousands of employees walked out of work last fall to protest how Google handled the departure of an executive who had been accused of coercing a worker into performing a sex act.

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Since then, Google has told employees it would be more forceful and transparent about its sexual misconduct investigations, and it stopped requiring that workers resolve all their disputes with the company through arbitration rather than lawsuits.

Thursday’s settlement stems from a complaint made by a former employee, Kevin Cernekee, saying Google had violated his rights to engage with other employees about workplace issues. He previously said he was fired for expressing conservative viewpoints on company chat forums. Google said Cernekee was fired for downloading confidential company documents onto a personal device.

Cernekee’s case got national attention last month when Fox News and eventually President Trump hyped his claims that Google would try to influence the 2020 election against Trump. There is no evidence those claims are true, and Google has denied them.

Google said the settlement does not mention political activity and will not change employee guidelines about mailing lists and internal forums. Those guidelines, updated last month, include: “While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not.”


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