Google Accused of Spying on Workers Involved in Organizing and Protests

Silicon Valley has not been immune to the worker organizing movements going on around the country.  While companies remain profitable, workers are seeking to have more of a voice in the workplace, even at progressive tech companies.

Two Google employees were named in an NLRB complaint against the company, after reporting that they were fired for their involvement in workplace activism.  One employee was allegedly fired for accessing co-workers’ calendars to organize efforts to protest Google’s work with an anti-union firm, and the other employee created a pop-up notification on the firm’s anti-union website informing visitors they had the right to organize.

Google alleged that the employees violated its data-security policies, as the company had rules that stopped workers from accessing co-workers’ calendars without a business purpose, and placed a 100-person limit on how many employees could be invited to calendar events.

The NLRB complaint alleged that Google’s actions interfered with, restrained, and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.  Google allegedly investigated its own employees about their access of co-workers’ calendars and other organizing tactics.

One interesting aspect of the complaint is that the NLRB alleges that Google “virtually surveilled” employees’ protected activities by viewing slides prepared for an employee organizational rights meeting.  Many employers work under the understanding that communications either sent on employer-owned computers or through the employer’s e-mail system are not private communications, but rather subject to employer review at any time.  The difficulty that arises is when employers know that employees are involved in organizing activities, or union activity, the surveillance of employee communications may be a red flag for NLRB investigators.

Employers need to be wary of overreacting when employees are involved in organizing campaigns.  There are effective techniques available for employers who wish to communicate their perspectives on organizing campaigns without possibly infringing on the rights of workers, but it can be difficult to do.  Companies need to be aware of the impact their seemingly innocuous rules can have on employee organizing, and must understand the laws the protect those employees who are organizing.

While this was a federal case, decisions of the NLRB have an impact on Minnesota labor law.  The Minnesota PERB is up and running, and while it has not fielded many complaints since its inception, it has the power to weigh in on issues just like this.  Without much precedent in the state, it is important to look at sources such as the NLRB for how “concerted activity” charges may be handled.  If you, or your organization, need assistance with navigating the world of employee rights to concerted activity, contact the Wiley Law Office, for labor law experience that works.