NLRB Accuses Google of Spying On and Retaliating Against Employees

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lodged a formal complaint against Google, LLC and Alphabet, Inc. (collectively Google) on Wednesday, contending that the company interfered with workers’ rights to organize and retaliated against certain employees for attempting to unify. According to an article by Ars Technica, and a redacted filing consolidating the cases, the NLRB stepped in after several employees made complaints about their former employer’s restrictive and punitive actions.

Ars Technica reported that Google fired several workers, Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman, at the tail end of last year amidst their ostensible efforts to organize company employees. The ex-employees filed complaints with NLRB, arguing that Google’s “‘draconian, pernicious, and unlawful conduct’” was an improper attempt to thwart workplace organization, Ars Technica explained. 

Less than a month later, another employee, Kathryn Spiers, was terminated after she developed an internal tool that notified employees of their rights to organize, according to the report. Spiers also reportedly submitted an NLRB complaint contending that her firing was retaliatory.

In its filing, the NLRB contends that Google “virtually surveilled” employees’ protected activities, by in part viewing a slide deck prepared for an employee organizational rights meeting. In addition, Google interrogated employees about documents and shared files related to their organizational intentions. The NLRB charges Google with both discouraging employees from engaging in protected activities, and “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees,” in rights guaranteed by the law.

Ars Technica noted that Google and its workers have been at odds at several times in the last few years, including a 2018 walk-out staged by employees to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment accusations leveled against senior officers. In 2019, Ars Techinca further noted that the NLRB and Google reached a settlement that required Google to apprise employees of their federal labor law rights and tell them that they would not be retaliated against for exercising those rights.

According to the instant complaint, Google must answer the allegations by Dec. 16. The hearing is scheduled for April 2021 before an NLRB administrative law judge.