Google accused of illegally spying on workers before firing them

Avatar Written by Hamnah Khalid ·  1 min read >

Google has been accused of violating US labour laws and spying on workers that were allegedly organising employee protests against the company.

According to a report filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of the US, two of Google’s employees were fired from the company at the end of 2019; one of which was organising a protest against the company’s decision to work with consultants from a specific research company.

Several other employees were also fired after the company allegedly snooped in on their protest plans.

Worker organizing is protected by law,” said Laurence Berland, one of the two employees in question. “Management and their union busting cronies wanted to send that message, and the NLRB is now sending their own message.”

The other employee in question, Kathryn Spiers, was fired after she posted a pop-up for Google employees when they visited the research company’s website. The message read, “Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities.” Google, at that time, claimed Ms Spiers had violated security policies. The NLRB has now deemed her firing unlawful, as with Mr Berland’s.

Colleagues and strangers believe I abused my role because of lies told by Google management while they were retaliating against me.

The NLRB can order Google to reinstate me, said Ms Spiers, in an emotional moment, “but it cannot reverse the harm done to my credibility.”

Google can choose to settle, and this matter goes away for a sum of money. If, however, they choose not to settle, the matter goes before an administrative judge within the next few months. The trial could result in the rehiring of both employees. Google can also be asked to pay back their wages.

Google has been the centre of many a scandals in the past couple of years. The company was involved in a sexual harassment case back in 2018. Since then, several protests have been organised and held against different employee policies. Protests were held in the wake of the sexual harassment scandal, and then again when Google decided to work with the Department of Defence in the US on Project Maven, an ethically questionable AI based drone striking system.

A Google spokesperson, in an emailed statement to The Verge, said that the company was standing firm on their actions. “We’re proud of that culture and are committed to defending it against attempts by individuals to deliberately undermine it — including by violating security policies and internal systems.

We’ll continue to provide information to the NLRB and the administrative judge about our decision to terminate or discipline employees who abused their privileged access to internal systems, such as our security tools or colleagues’ calendars. Such actions are a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility, and we will be defending our position.

Sources: The Verge, The Guardian, The New York Times