Google is now ending forced attribution for all its current and future employees. The changes will go into effect on March 21 and although settled cases won’t be reopened, past claims can be litigated. This decision comes after four months of constant pressure from activists who called on the company to end force attribution.
Force attribution prevents employees from taking their workplace disputes to court. A lot of companies require their employees to enter a mandatory arbitration agreement and as a result, they are forced to settle disputes within the confines of their workplace. Such agreements work heavily in the favor of employers and put employees in a disadvantage. That’s because they take their cases to a quasi-legal forum which neither has a judge nor a jury. They are more likely to lose their cases and if they do end up winning, the payout is a lot less when compared to what a court would grant.
In November 2018, 20,000 Google employees staged a walked out to protest the way the search giant handles harassment cases. The protest was announced in the wake of a New York Times article that alleged that not only does Google not take action against high-ranking employees found guilty of sexual misconduct, it sweeps the matter under the rug whilst granting a generous exit package to the violators.
The organizers pushed the company to introduce a number of systematic changes to prevent employee assault and one of their main demands was to end forced arbitration. Google complied and ended the practice but only in cases related to sexual discrimination and sexual assault.
Later on, in December, a group that calls itself Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration started pressurizing not only Google but also other tech companies to review their workplace policies. They invited the tech industry to band together and push for an end to forced arbitration. Google was aware of these concerns and it took the group’s complaints into account when making the latest changes.
As a result, the company has now dropped forced arbitration in all cases. Although some other tech companies, such as Adobe and Intuit, do not use force arbitration to settle claims, most tech companies in the U.S. do use the practice. However, there has surely been some progress, as some companies, including eBay, Airbnb, and Facebook have also ended forced arbitration.
For workers who do not have employment contracts with Google directly such as vendors, temporary employees, and contractors, the changes do not apply. However, this group makes up nearly 50 percent of the company’s total workforce and shutting them out is likely to invite criticism. Google plans to notify suppliers to see if they can also do the same. The changes also apply to companies such as the DeepMind AI program that legally exist under Google but not to companies that are owned by its parent company Alphabet but separate from the search engine giant.
The Google walkout organizers have credited the victory to the workers that came together, supported each other, and walked out. They also said that this is just the beginning, which means we might see the group push for more reforms in the future.