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Google’s new sexual harassment policy could change Valley bro culture



google ceo sundar pichai
CEO Sundar Pichai

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  • After a boatload of drama at Google
    over how the company has handled sexual harassment and
    misconduct, CEO Sundar Pichai announced new policies.
  • Google is joining a wave of companies that will no
    longer force its employees making sexual harassment claims into
    private arbitration.
  • This is a hopeful sign that Silicon Valley’s much
    publicized bro culture could be truly changing.

There’s been another round of employee drama at Google these past
few weeks.
After The New York times
published an explosive story on how
the company previously protected one of its star engineers, Andy
Rubin, amid a sexual misconduct investigation, Google CEO
Sundar Pichai revealed the company has fired 48 employees for
sexual harassment in the last two years.

On Thursday, Google published new policies for how the company
will handle sexual harassment after employees staged a walkout

and sent the company a list of five demands.

Employees didn’t get everything they wanted, but they did get
their top demand: an end to forced arbitration for sexual
harassment cases.

a memo
, Pichai announced the new policy, while also defending
Google’s general policy of forced arbitration by claiming it
never required confidentiality.

Read more:

Here’s the memo Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent to employees on the
changes to its sexual harassment policy after the

He wrote, “We will make arbitration optional for individual
sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. Google has never
required confidentiality in the arbitration process and
arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons
(e.g. personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be
up to you.”

Forcing employees to sign agreements forbidding them to sue
the company, and to instead go to arbitration, is one of the key
ways a company can keep its dirty laundry secret.

Arbitration is a private process that doesn’t produce
public court documents or public court decisions. It can also
make it more difficult for employees to band together to file
class-action lawsuits.

And settlement agreements may also include a gag order,
forbidding the employee to talk about their experience, even if
they won the case.

Mix it all together and you get a perfect combo where a
company’s incentives to cover things up can seem more alluring
than to banish illegal behavior or misconduct and see that it
doesn’t happen again.

With private arbitration, even if the company fires the
employee (and that doesn’t always happen), a new employer has no
easy way to know about the underlying incident, freeing the
employee to continue engaging in the same behavior at the new

Forcing employees to agree to arbitration as a condition of
employment has become common practice in corporate America today.
And it is standard practice in Silicon Valley. It is so common
that Susan Fowler, the famed engineer who wrote about her
experience with sexual harassment at Uber,
petitioned the Supreme Court about a year ago,
arguing that
the practice should be banned.

While Google clearly hasn’t given up forced arbitration in
general, making it optional for sexual harassment cases is a huge
step for Silicon Valley.

Alone, this one company’s choice won’t end Silicon Valley’s
well documented bro culture problems.

But the thing is, Google isn’t alone. About a year ago,
Microsoft also removed its
forced arbitration clause for sexual harassment claims
endorsed a Senate bill attempting to make such a change the law
of the land.

followed suit in May

Ideally, companies would simply stop making their employees
waive their rights to sue in regular courts for every issue, not
just sexual harassment claims.

But for now, a slow and steady wave of change is
happening on this front. Perhaps Silicon Valley can even become a
beacon for other industries, with well-publicized sexual
harassment issues like media and finance, to do the same.

Ultimately, the freedom of employees to go public with
sexual harassment claims should they choose to will shed some
much-needed light on a situation that has been allowed to fester
in the dark far too long.

Get the latest Google stock price here.

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