Google fires four for accessing internal documents. Workers say it’s retaliation
Google has terminated four employees for what the tech firm said were “repeated violations of our data security policies.” All four had spoken out publicly against company initiatives including Google’s past work with government agencies.
One of the four, Rebecca Rivers, was one of two employees whose recent suspension by Google sparked a rally last week outside the company’s San Francisco office from colleagues who demanded their reinstatement.
In a memo first obtained by Bloomberg News, the company said the four employees “were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work. This includes searching for, accessing, and distributing business information outside the scope of their jobs.”
The memo added that one of the fired employees subscribed to the calendars of workers on other teams “so that they received emails detailing the work and whereabouts of those employees, including personal matters such as 1:1s [one-on-one meetings], medical appointments and family activities — all without those employees’ knowledge or consent.”
At the Friday rally, Rivers said she never accessed any documents that were labeled “need to know,” nor did she share any documents with anyone who did not already have access.
Laurence Berland, a Google staffer suspended alongside Rivers, acknowledged viewing the calendars of people on different teams at Friday’s demonstration, but said such calendars were visible to all workers. He said at the time that the suspensions were an attempt to stifle dissent inside the company.
“This isn’t really about me, or Rebecca, or any individual,” Berland said Friday. “They are retaliating against us because they want to intimidate everyone who dares to disagree with leadership...They want us afraid, and they want us silent.”
Berland could not be immediately reached for comment.
After Rivers tweeted that she had been terminated, several former and current Google staffers who have spoken out against the company hinted that protests would continue.
“This is craven retaliation, and I ask everyone who can to show up and support,” tweeted Meredith Whittaker, who helped organize a large walkout at Google last year and left the company after saying she faced retaliation. “More soon...”
Google would not comment beyond confirming the authenticity of the staff memo.
Tensions between employees and executives at Google have soured in the last two years. The rift first broke into the open with the November 2018 walkout. As The Times reported, that global protest signaled employees’ growing concern with a breakdown of the transparency and trust that long-defined Google’s corporate culture.
Since then, workers have complained that the company has become cagier and attempted to censor those who speak out against new and existing policies.
Google recently announced it would hold fewer “TGIF” all-hands meetings due to leaks, took down memes that criticized the hiring of a former Department of Homeland Security staffer, and deleted questions during an all-staff meeting about the appointment of that staffer. It also put in place new rules that limit the kinds of political speech employees can engage in on company time.
Meanwhile, workers in Zurich, Switzerland, recently held a meeting to discuss their rights as workers and what unionizing would entail in defiance of Google’s repeated attempts to cancel the event. Employees also accused the company of creating an internal tool that kept tabs on organizing efforts by automatically reporting staffers who created a calendar event that included more than 10 rooms or 100 or more participants.