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Google HR reportedly advised mental health leave in response to complaints of racist or sexist behavior

Workers said the leave was offered even if complaints had nothing to do with mental health

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Several current and former Google employees say the company’s human resources department would often suggest mental health counseling or leave in response to complaints about racist or sexist behavior in the workplace, NBC News reported.

The workers described encounters with coworkers that included racist comments about skin color and hairstyles, as well as sexual harassment. When they contacted Google’s human resources department, each was encouraged to take mental health leave, even when their complaints were unrelated to mental health concerns, according to NBC.

The report follows the December firing of Google AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, who refused a manager’s request to retract a paper that described the dangers of language models like the ones Google relies on to power its search engine. Gebru wrote an email to the Brain Women and Allies listserv describing her frustration over the paper, and mentioned her doubts about Google’s commitments to diversity and inclusion. She says Google told her the email was “inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.” Google’s head of AI claimed Gebru resigned, which she has vehemently disputed.

And April Christina Curley, a Black woman who worked as a diversity recruiter for Google, said she was fired in September after being denied promotions and having her pay cut, despite her strong work performance and her successful recruitment of hundreds of students from historically Black colleges and universities to Google’s engineering department. Curley told NBC she was also encouraged to take mental health leave.

A Google spokesperson wrote in an email to The Verge that the company’s first priority when someone raises a complaint is to investigate their concerns, adding it takes action if policy violations are found. “At the same time, we know that being the subject of, and reporting, misconduct is hard, so we provide Google-funded resources for employees who may want additional care and support through the process. We think this is the right thing for an employer to do to support people making complaints, but to be clear, these resources are in no way a substitute to Google investigating and addressing the matter they have reported.”

Update March 8th 1:58PM ET: Adds comment from Google