NLRB Files Complaint Against Google for Illegally Spying On, Firing Employees

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

December 9, 2020

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed a complaint against Google and its parent company Alphabet claiming the internet company violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by illegally spying on and terminating some of its employees. The complaint stemmed from the firing last year of a group of employees dubbed the "Thanksgiving Four."

The NLRB started its investigation into Google's employee practices after the internet giant dismissed four employees in November 2019, shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday. The employees had engaged in organizing and protest activities in response to various company practices, including:

  • Treatment of Google's temporary, vendor and contractor workers;
  • The company's work with Customs and Border Protection;
  • The hiring of an anti-union organizing consultancy firm; and
  • Alleged retaliation against employees who tried to organize a union.

The NLRA protects organizing and other "concerted activities" engaged in by employees for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment. The NLRB complaint accuses Google of using surveillance, interrogation and other tactics to spy on employee activists, and "interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees" in the exercise of their rights.

Google maintains that it fired the employees for repeated violations of longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees' materials and work. These alleged violations centered on the employees' use of general company communication tools like calendars, email and meeting rooms.

"We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace, and open discussion and respectful debate have always been part of Google's culture," a company spokesperson said. "We're proud of that culture and are committed to defending it against attempts by individuals to deliberately undermine it - including by violating security policies and internal systems."

The new complaint comes shortly after the NLRB also issued a complaint against HCL America, a Google contractor. That complaint claimed that, after 80 employees voted to unionize as part of United Steelworkers, the company violated labor law by:

  • Failing to bargain with the union;
  • Unilaterally changing work terms and conditions; and
  • Retaliating against employees by transferring bargaining unit work to a facility in Poland.