Google has recently faced some trouble in regards to whether it allows employees to speak freely, and the National Labor Relations Board has chimed in to remind the web giant that it is not allowed to restrict its employees’ speech.
The agency has been butting heads with Google in official capacity, and has taken a moment outside of court to firmly and publicly remind the company what the federal rules are regarding such behavior.
It came down particularly hard in the case of ousted engineer Kevin Cernekee, who was fired for misuse of company equipment in Google’s take, but he says he was punished for posting right-wing political views on a company message board.
Another case under scrutiny is an anonymous employee who claims that he’s fallen afoul of the company after criticizing an executive on Facebook. Both cases are under legal representation and fall under a settlement that’s currently in the proposal stage. The NLRB, for its part, has taken no real action aside from demanding that Google rescind a final warning letter that it gave to Cernekee.
Google made an official statement about the issue, and says that its proposed settlement with the NLRFB and Kevin Cernekee, which it has at this point agreed to and will soon be finalizing, does not mention political views in particular, and thus puts the company in the clear as far as potential punishment for regulating political speech.
What the agreement does cover, however, is reminding employees that they are free to speak as they wish in the workplace and out, including on Google’s internal message boards. The settlement’s outlined reminder and posting will also restate changes to Google’s internal policies that it made in 2016 and 2017, expanding upon the freedoms employees explicitly have when it comes to self-expression and when self-expression crosses the line.
The company does not tolerate harassment or making other employees uncomfortable. In an LGBTQ+-friendly, melting-pot sort of workspace, it’s quite understandable that the predominant political view in the company culture would lean far to the left of America’s current sociopolitical scene. During one of the most divisive times in American history, opposite sides of the political spectrum have gotten to the point of using physical violence in some confrontations.
The narrative of the current American right, in many ways, has been said in the past to imply disdain toward individuals of color, those whose sexual orientation is not straight, and those who do not identify with their birth gender, among other parties. As such, it’s not hard to see why Google is having such trouble figuring out where the line is between laying out opposing views and outright harassing, threatening, or discomforting fellow Googlers.
The case of James Damore jumps to mind in light of this news. Damore was let go back in 2017, after publishing a document stating that Google’s diversity efforts and left bias were harmful to its workforce, among other controversial and critical opinions.
While Damore and a few others brought suit, a case that’s still ongoing, the NLRB did dismiss a part of Damore’s discrimination claim, saying that his comments about diversity were not protected. Damore himself, along with one other party, has settled at this point, but a couple of parties remain in the case.
Google has a long history as a tech leader, putting it in an unrivaled role of leadership and trendsetting within the space. That means that it has a de facto responsibility to set the tone for how people are screened, hired, and treated, from entry-level coders all the way up to CEOs.
This news and the cases attached to it serve as a reminder of that, and show that the company is still trying to find a happy balance between keeping its employees happy and company culture balanced. There have been many policy changes to this end so far, and there are likely to be many more.