Yves here. From a legal standpoint, the arguments that Google is making in its defense in an employee lawsuit are lame. Of course, it could be saving its real case for the court. Oddly, the summary below omits a key issue as to why Google’s surveillance and secrecy policies are problematic. From the underlying story at Information:
The lawsuit alleges that Google warns employees to not put into writing concerns about potential illegal activity within Google, even to the company’s own attorneys, because the disclosures could fall into the hands of regulators and law enforcement. It also alleges that confidentiality provisions include a prohibition on employees writing “a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley,” without Google signing off on the final draft.
Among other things, this makes it impossible for Google to have any sort of internal whistleblower program, even when most are strictly cosmetic. Most corporate governance experts deem them to be necessary as a liability shield for management. Moreover, these agreements also violate the SEC’s whistleblower rules, which bar companies from hindering employees contacting agency officials regarding suspected abuses. Google’s top brass appear convinced that their internal code of omerta plus their connections means that they can dispense with that sort of thing.
Google’s internal non-disclosure agreements apparently didn’t contain standard “outs,” the most important being that the signer can disclose information when compelled to by judicial decree, as long as they inform the company first and give them the opportunity to contest the order.
I hope California readers will tell me about the reputation of the firm suing Google. The claim looks to be spare (a good sign) and well argued. Even though the usual rule of thumb with employee suits is that the big companies have a huge advantage by being able to hire better counsel, Google looks to have overreached to such a remarkable degree that the employee may well prevail. It would also help if outside parties take interest and provide amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiff.
By Michael Arria, an associate editor at AlterNet and AlterNet’s labor editor. Follow @MichaelArria on Twitter. Originally published at Alternet
Tech news site the Information reports that a former Google employee is suing the company, claiming it maintained an internal spying program that encouraged workers to rat each other out.
The lawsuit was filed by a former product manager who claims that the alleged program violates California labor law. The same person filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Google and its sister firm Nest this June. The NLRB complaint alleged that the employee was terminated after making a social media post that was critical of the company. The allegation also contends that the companies illegally monitored workers’ electronic devices to prevent them from airing criticisms of Google.
The lawsuit points out that employees should be able to discuss workplace conditions without fearing retaliatory action.
Google has called the lawsuit “baseless.” The Information piece quotes a statement from the company:
We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.
If the lawsuit ends up being successful, it could be extremely expensive for Google. The Information report breaks down the math:
Google could be fined up to $100 for each of the 12 alleged violations in the suit, multiplied by 65,000 employees. If an allegedly unlawful policy lasted for more than one pay period, the fine doubles to $200 per pay period, per employee, for up to a year. If ‘Doe’ prevails on every allegation in the lawsuit, the maximum fine would be $3.8 billion, with about $14,600 going to each Google employee.
Read the entire article at the Information’s website.