Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Update: On March 21, only a few days after the waiver’s existence came to light, Google has now decided to drop the requirement for employees to sign it, according to The Information.
A Google manager quietly filed a lawsuit against the company in December, complaining about two major things: the company’s “internal spying program” on employees as well as formal agreements that prohibit employees from suing for sexual harassment if they see porn at work.
According to a lawsuit, Google employees must “waive their right to sue” for sexual harassment at work, according to The Information.
It all comes down to pornography.
Years of case law that supports the rights of workers to sue companies if they are exposed to pornography, under sexual harassment laws. Many Google employees are exposed to porn, as a fact of life at a search engine company.
Google’s solution: to force all employees to sign a waiver forgoing their right to sue the company for sexual harassment —despite the fact that the vast majority of those 72,000 employees may have no reason to look at pornography at work.
As a result, three current and former employees are suing the company in California state court because they believe “several” of Google’s rules have infringed upon labor law, according to The Information.
The waiver reportedly covers all workers “who work for Google, its parent company, Alphabet, and its other subsidiaries.”
The waiver came to light because of the lawsuit filed by an anonymous Google manager, who was later joined by two other workers.
This week’s court filing in the lawsuit says that the company requires new workers to sign an “Adult Content Liability Release,” according to The Information. The employees reportedly say that “the adult images waiver is illegal because companies cannot make employees give up their rights as a condition of employment.”
Google gave Ladders a statement.
“We have employees who may be exposed to offensive material as part of their jobs, such as those who protect our users by fighting web spam or reviewing flagged videos. Like other companies, we have policies and practices — updated regularly — surrounding such roles. Of course, these policies have never had anything to do with inappropriate content that employees may be exposed to outside their job responsibilities, and have never altered or detracted in any way from Google’s policies prohibiting harassment. We believe any claim challenging Google’s policies on this point will fail,” the statement said.
“I’ve never heard of this before in my life…It’s overly broad, it’s overly controlling, it’s interfering with people’s constitutional rights,” attorney Kelly Armstrong told The Information.
Exposure to porn and violent images has been a controversial employment issue among big Silicon Valley companies.
In January, Microsoft also came under fire when two former employees and their families sued because they said they were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after being exposed to and reporting things like “child pornography and abuse, bestiality and murder” while at work. The two employees said they didn’t know they would be exposed to that content and that Microsoft “failed to provide psychological support.”
“This work is difficult, but critically important to a safer and more trusted internet,” GeekWire said Microsoft responded in a statement.
In another instance, a Google contractor told BuzzFeed news in 2012 that he spent nine months scanning the web for “sensitive content,” including looking at 15,000 images of child porn a day.
Content moderation at Facebook, Twitter, Google and other major websites could employ a shadow workforce of as many as 100,000 people whose job is purely to scan the internet for inappropriate content, according to Wired.