- A complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board notes that Google spied on and wrongfully fired two US employees in 2019.
- The employees were involved in labour organising at the company and revealed Google’s relations to IRI consultants, a firm known for anti-union efforts.
- Google had noted that it fired the employees "for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies."
Tech-giant Google has been accused of spying on and wrongfully firing two of its employees in the US according to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, were fired back in 2019 along with four other worker activists for being involved in labor organising at the company. Google had noted that it fired the employees "for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies." However, the NLRB found that Berland and Spiers did not violate any Labour laws.
Berland had researched Google's relationship with IRI consultants, a firm is known for anti-union efforts and had reportedly viewed other employee's calendars. Google's policy against the workers looking at others' calendars is unlawful. According to NLRB's complaint, several of Google's policies that prohibited workers from viewing internal documents were unlawful and selectively enforced.
"Google's hiring of IRI is an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing," Berland said in a statement. "Management and their union-busting cronies wanted to send that message, and the NLRB is now sending their own message: worker organizing is protected by law."
He also said that the NLRB complaint makes it clear that the workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management. "This is a significant finding at a time when we're seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society," he said.
In 2019, the then 21-year old Google security engineer, Spiers had reportedly published a piece of code that created a pop-up notification when Google employees visited the website of IRI Consultants. "Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities," read the browser notification, which appeared on the bottom right-hand corner of the site and was visible only to Google's own workforce, according to a report by The Guardian.
"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, but it cannot reverse the harm done to my credibility," said Spiers.
Google has decided to fight against the NLRB which will take the complaint to an administrative judge in the coming months, according to reports. "We're confident in our decision and legal position," Jennifer Rodstrom, a Google spokeswoman, told NYT. "Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility." In case Google decides to settle, the company will have to pay the wages of both the employees and rehire them.