Google accused of illegally spying on employees

Complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board claims the tech giant broke US laws

Google employees walking into work at the California office

Google violated labour laws by spying on employees and firing staff that attempted to unionise fellow workers, according to a complaint filed by the US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB).

The complaint was filed on Wednesday following a year-long investigation launched by terminated employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers. It also names Google's parent company Alphabet, according to CNBCand alleges that the tech giant interfered with, restrained and coerced employees against their rights as guaranteed by Section 7 of the US Labour Act.

It also claims that Google’s accessing of worker calendars and other internal documents constituted unlawful surveillance.

In its complaint, the NLRB has also accused Google of firing several employees in retaliation for trying to unionise co-workers and of illegally blocking staff from sharing work grievances and information via internal services such as calendars, email, meeting rooms and an internal comms tool called 'MemeGen'. 

The NLRB said it expects a response from Google by 16 December, with the organisation planning to hold a hearing on 12 April, next year, in San Francisco.

In a statement, Google said it was confident it acted legally.

"Google has always worked to support a culture of internal discussion, and we place immense trust in our employees," a Google spokesperson said. "Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility."

There are many Googlers, past and present, that may disagree with the tech giant. Over the last two years, the company has seen a number of walkouts and protests over the way it treats women, people of colour, and temporary workers. Some involved in those protests also claimed to have faced some form of retaliation from a line manager.

The use of internal surveillance is also something of a trend with tech right now. The complaint against Google swiftly follows an announcement from Microsoft regarding changes to its Productivity Score feature. Companies can no longer see data about individual employees after privacy experts voiced concerns that the feature would be a "snooper's charter" for bosses to spy on workers.

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