More than 500 Alphabet employees have signed an open letter demanding Google stop protecting the subjects of harassment complaints. The move comes two days after former Google engineer Emi Nietfeld wrote an op-ed in The New York Times alleging that she was forced to have one-on-one meetings with the man who harassed her — and sit next to him in the office — even after she filed an HR complaint.
“This is a long pattern where Alphabet protects the harasser instead of protecting the person harmed by the harassment,” the letter reads. “The person who reports harassment is forced to bear the burden, usually leaving Alphabet while their harasser stays or is rewarded for their behavior.”
Workers lay out two demands in the letter. First, that Google strip harassers of their direct reports, ensuring that “no harasser should manage or lead a team.” Second, that they force harassers to change teams if the claims are verified so employees don’t have to work alongside their harasser.
“I’m heartened to see this letter,” Nietfeld said in a phone interview with The Verge. “It reminds me of how great some of my former colleagues were and why I loved working with them. Google hires so many people who are passionate about doing the right thing. It’s such a shame when the system prevents them from doing that.”
Andrew Gainer-Dewar, a Google software engineer and member of the Alphabet Workers Union, says Nietfeld’s experience underlines the need for collective action. “Surely someone who has been credibly accused of harassment shouldn’t be managing people,” he tells The Verge. “And someone who has been found to have harassed people definitely shouldn’t be managing people.”
Nietfeld’s story highlights concerns raised by Google employees in 2018 in the aftermath of the Andy Rubin scandal. Rubin, who co-founded Android, was paid $90 million despite being credibly accused of sexual misconduct. When these allegations came to light, 20,000 Google employees walked out to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment.
One of the demands from walkout organizers was an end to the forced arbitration clause in Google contracts. While Google removed the clause for employees, it did not remove it for contractors or workers at other Alphabet companies.
The letter directly calls out this omission. “Alphabet has not changed, and did not meet any of the Google Walkout demands (temps, vendors, contractors, and workers from Alphabet companies other than Google are still forced into arbitration),” the letter says. “We’ve already raised these issues before. The Google Walkout demands are still waiting to be met!”
In a statement to The Verge, a Google spokesperson emphasized that the company has changed its handling of harassment claims since the walkout took place. “We’ve made significant improvements to our overall process, including the way we handle and investigate employee concerns, and introducing new care programs for employees who report concerns,” a spokesperson said. “Reporting misconduct takes courage and we’ll continue our work to improve our processes and support for the people who do.”