In the last few weeks Google has had another series of employee dramas. After The New York Times published an explosive story about how the company protected one of its star engineers, Andy Rubin, from being investigated for sexual misconduct, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, reported that the company had 48 employees in the last two years dismissed for sexual harassment.
On Thursday, Google released new guidelines on how the company should handle sexual harassment after employees made a walkout and sent the company a list of five claims.
The employees did not get everything they wanted, but they received their highest request: ending compulsory arbitration for sexual harassment.
In a note, Pichai announced the new policy and also defended Google's general compulsory arbitration claiming that it had never required confidentiality.
Continue reading: Here's the memo that Google boss Sundar Pichai sent to staff on changes to his sexual harassment policy after the walkout
He wrote: "We will make arbitration optional for individual cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault – Google has never required confidentiality in arbitration, and arbitration may still be the best for various reasons (such as privacy) Be Away You should have the choice. "
Forcing employees to sign agreements that prohibit them from sueing the company and instead initiate arbitration is one of the keys to keeping a company's dirty laundry secret.
Arbitration is a private process in which no public court documents or judicial decisions are made. It can also be harder for employees to join in class action lawsuits.
Settlement agreements may also include a gag order that prohibits the employee from talking about his experience, even if he has won the case.
Mix everything together and you get a perfect combination in which a company's incentives to cover up things are more attractive than banishing illegal behavior or misconduct and preventing it from happening again.
In private arbitration, even if the company dismisses the employee (and this is not always the case), a new employer does not have an easy way to know the underlying incident, which frees the employee to continue in the same company behavior.
Employees' commitment to arbitration as an employment condition is a common practice in America today. And that's common in Silicon Valley. It is so common for Susan Fowler, the famous engineer who reported on her experience of sexual harassment in Uber, to have petitioned the Supreme Court about a year ago, arguing that the practice should be banned.
Although Google has generally not given up on forced arbitration, it is a big step for Silicon Valley to make it optional for cases of sexual harassment.
The very decision of this company will not end Silicon Valley's well-documented Bro culture problem.
But the thing is, Google is not alone. About a year ago, Microsoft also overturned the compulsory arbitration clause for sexual harassment claims and approved a Senate resolution attempting to make such a change to state law.
Uber followed in May.
Ideally, companies would simply stop compelling their employees to clarify their rights before ordinary courts for any matter, not just claims of sexual harassment.
At the moment, however, a slow and steady wave of change is taking place on this front. Perhaps Silicon Valley can even become a beacon for other industries where sexual harassment, such as media and finance, is known to do the same.
Ultimately, the freedom of workers to demand sexual harassment, if they decide to, will throw the much needed view of a situation that has been left in the dark far too long.