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Google is challenging a legal precedent that protects activist employees



Google has asked the National Labor Relations Board to reconsider rules allowing employees to organize over workplace email without fear of punishment, according to a Bloomberg report on Thursday.

The Obama-era precedent restricts companies from disciplining employees who used internal email communication for actions such as circulating petitions, organizing walkouts, or trying to form a union, according to the report.

The protection has been used extensively by Google employees over the past year — perhaps most leading up to the November walkouts where workers around the world left their desks to protest their company’s handling of alleged sexual harassment cases involving company execs.

Internal email communication was a vital component in organizing the walkouts, according to an employee in Bloomberg’s report.

At the time, Google’s leadership supported employees who protested its policies. In a company-wide email one week after the walkouts, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said: “Even in difficult times, we are encouraged by the commitment of our colleagues to create a better workplace.”

Yet three weeks later, as Bloomberg reported, Google attorney’s put forth filings that urged the Labor Board to overturn the precedent that protected workers to organize.

Read more: Google tightened security by banning contractors and temp workers from its internal Groups forums, and it’s raising new workplace problems

According to the report, Google challenged these legal protections in defending itself against employees allegations unrelated to the November walkouts.

“We’re not lobbying for changes to any rules,” a Google spokesperson told Business Insider on Thursday. “This was a legal defense that we included as one of many possible defenses in the response to a charge. This case is without merit and we are defending the claim vigorously.”

According to the report, Google challenged these legal protections in defending itself against a case brought against it by the NLRB. The case, in part, involved its handling of an employee who made comments on the company’s internal chat room in 2015 about workplace diversity and social justice issues. It is not uncommon for companies to object legal precedents being used in cases against them, according to the report.

The employee group who helped organize the November walkouts — Google Walkout for Real Change — responded to the report on Thursday, saying: “Sundar assured us that he and Google’s leadership supported the Walkout. But the company’s requests to the National Labor Relations Board tell a different story… We will continue to stand up for justice, equity, and a safe workplace, in solidarity with all workers.”

Read the full Bloomberg report here.

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