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Google employee sues company for 'illegal' confidentiality policies that violate labor laws

A Google product manager has accused the company of violating California labor laws via its restrictive confidentiality policies. According to The Information (opens in new tab), the employee filed a suit with the California Superior Court in San Francisco, alleging that Google is running an internal "spying program" that encourages employees to report co-workers suspected of leaking information to the media.

The lawsuit also states that Google's policies prohibit employees from reporting illegal activities within the company, even to its own attorneys. Weirdly, there's also a policy that prevents employees from writing a novel about working for a Silicon Valley corporation without getting approval from Google.

One of the reasons for the stringent policies is to ensure that confidential information isn't leaked to the press. Anyone found guilty of doing so would be terminated, according to the lawsuit. The suit also says that confidential information is classified as "everything at Google," which prevents employees from talking about their workplace conditions with the "press, members of the investment community, partners, or anyone else outside of Google."

If Google is found to be guilty of the alleged 12 violations of California's labor laws, it could pay out as much as $3.8 billion in total, with 75% of the penalty collected by the state and the rest distributed to Google's 65,000 employees. That comes out to $14,600 per employee.

Here's a full copy of the lawsuit, as obtained by The Verge:

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

53 Comments
  • Wow
  • No one is above the law, I like Google a lot but we live in a society of rules and regulations that absolutely everyone must abide by. Whomever it is in upper management who is pushing these policies which expose Google to litigation is the real traitor to the company. Literally if I was a corporation in the USA the very last state I would **** with would be California.
  • Everyone except your own government it would seem.
  • Just like California's state government and voters think they are above the federal governments laws... Maybe you should practice your own philosophy
  • Same thing here in Indiana. A GOP state. They think there above the federal government. But you are probably just talking about pot
  • +1
  • Thank God.
  • But this open's up the flood gates to all other corporations that do this, and there are many doing the exact same thing with NDA's and contracts employees sign. If Google loses. But I'd bet Google wins, we are almost living in a Plutocracy where corporations rule everything and have our Representatives in their back pockets.
  • Good luck with that.
  • That's funny. http://fortune.com/best-companies/ Google is at #1 in top 100 companies to work for. :)
  • That's funny. You think that compensating people well is the same as not violating their legal rights :)
  • Unfortunately, Google or Alphabet seems to be more and more losing it's connection to the Nerds and Geeks who built the company and coined the motto "Don't be Evil", since more and more of what they do don't follow that motto.
    I guess that is what happens when you become a big Corporation and have to play with the big guys and dictated by the finance market. Power corrupts.
  • I think this is what happens when billions of dollars are involved and there is a board of directors. Look at HP, they use to be run by engineers. They made quality innovative products. Then the business people got involved and now they are just another brand that makes crappy computers.
  • Not exactly. The Spectre and Spectre x360 are great premium computers. They were sucking for a long time yes. But they have at least turned their products around the past 2 years.
  • They made awful laptops for over a decade! I give several dozen recommendations for a laptop each year. The first thing I say is "if you buy an HP I will not help you or do any work on it." Those Spectre laptops are typically not in the budget for most of the people I make recommendations for.
  • I have to agree. Parents got me an HP for university and I've had nothing but issues after my first semester with it.
  • So does sh*t tons of cash.
  • When everything is evil , nothing is evil.
  • being the most important company of the world, which even if you do not want use the services of Google , you end up uing because is not other best alternative besides google, is logic that the power abuse is brutal, between already i am waiting the google apps on microsoft phones ,
  • That's because WP is garbage and not deserving of apps from a great company like Google who created the world's most popular, most used and advanced OS in Android.
  • I am sure every company does that in this world.
  • That doesn't make it acceptable behaviour.
  • None of the 7 companies I've worked for did.
  • That you know of... All corporations have laws on top of laws built by snake lawyers with enough connections to enforce them because the majority of people who work for them don't get paid enough to afford legal action.
  • 3.8 Billion in damages? Chump change.
  • However I see the State of California gets 75% of the 3.8 Billion. The lawyers get the rest. The employees get screwed
  • So you didn't see the "That comes out to $14,600 per employee"?
  • Being #1 comes with many trials and I'm sure they're having quite an issue keeping a lid on all their up and coming ideas. Apple battles the same dilemma and has a few black eyes already
  • Google's motto is 'don't be evil.' Google's illegal confidentiality agreements and policies fail this test. So you have already tried and convicted them? Makes for a nice headline, but poor journalism. The alleged confidentiality agreements and polices MAY BE illegal, and the courts will decide Ok, just read the Verge article from Nick Stat, he makes it clear that the above line is a quote from the lawsuit and not just the author's opinion.
  • headlines like that are really going to put a dent in AC's pixel/daydream/home advertising revenues.
  • I'm sure the revenue stream from Samsung will help.
  • The title is just fine. The title doesn't refer to any court penalties, it's referring to the actual policy failing because the policy is already there and visible and whether a court says it's on violation or not, it's a fail because it's a horrible policy.
  • Something seems strange here. I've worked for more than one large publicly traded company, one of which is a big tech company, and these policies stated in the article are pretty much the same everywhere. It all seems pretty standard confidentiality terms. The only of the 3 that sounds wrong (and maybe isn't being described right here) is the one about not reporting illegal activities. That would violate standard whistle blower laws of a publicly traded company, which Alphabet is...So I can't see how that's actually in one of their confidentiality agreement. Maybe the policy is that a whistle blower is to 1st report it to their internal hotline, before reporting to another party.
  • Exactly. If the courts somehow buy into this, it would set president for every coronation in California. Then say goodbye to silicone valley.
  • When this person was given the job, I'm sure there was a rules of conduct statement he/she signed that listed what could and couldn't be done. I'm sure this person signed it. Right or wrong, he/she shouldn't have taken the job if those rules were to stringent .
  • Lawsuit = TL;DR but if it doesn't include exact copies of the 'illegal' policies then it's all smoke and mirrors. Every high tech company I've worked for has required NDAs: if you don't agree with the terms of employment, don't sign - very simple.
  • Not so simple if you have financial and domestic responsibilities. That would essentially force the majority of Americans to live without an income and a laundry list of problems. Just because most companies have them, doesn't mean their moral and ethical value is awfully tainted.
  • People saying he should not have signed clearly don't understand labor laws. That's implying "let companies do whatever they want to their employees, but only as long as it has to be written and signed for the employee." That means you trust every human to make the right decision and not put themselves in a bad situation. Unfortunately you can't just trust everyone in society to make the right decision to not sign a bad contract. If the government never protected employees against big companies we would be working for pennies in horrible conditions. The point is not about the employee not liking this. The point is that some of that policy is ILLEGAL and not good ethics. It goes against California law. Meaning even if the employees did not care about it, then the state of California would have sued for Google themselves anyways because it's against their state laws. Anyways this is really sad to hear. Mainly the part that they can't report illegal activities to their own company lawyers and they can not even talk about their working conditions. Those are the 2 major illegal things that stand out of all this law suit is true.
  • The Government IS a big corporation. 75% goes to the state of Google is found guilty???
  • Wow, sounds like you took the time to read the whole contact for yourself, not just a couple of statements AC pulled from the complaints made to the courts. Glad you took the time to do all that research before making such a critical comment...
  • I guess this employee might not be too attached to his job and was thinking of jumping ship already.
  • I just think it's funny that the People's Republic of California is taking a 75% cut.
  • I don't get it. I work in California in film and television. I have to sign NDAs for every job.
  • Yeah, I fail to see an issue here, myself. If I go airing my employer's plans or inside information to the media, I would expect to be fired, at the very least.
  • I think the biggest issue here is being forced to set your moral values aside and allow your employer to essentially get away with any crime you witness within their walls. As a very dramatic example, their clause is saying if Google has an internal fight club where employees fight to the death with one winner breathing in the end... The rest of the employees are forced to keep quiet about it, regardless of their personal feelings on the matter. Now that's way over the top but you understand the point.
  • Why is the State collecting 75% of the $3.8B? Makes sense to give state 25%, and divvy up the rest among employees, after all, they're the ones directly impacted by whatever.
  • Because California's citizens are well known to make frivolous lawsuits against big corporations. Wasting taxpayer dollars and the courts time has to be compensated somehow.
  • Typical actually
  • I just had to troll this article, half the commenters think they are lawyers... and I used to wonder why it cost so much to get into a good Law University, now I know why self representation rarely works to any benefit to defendants in court.
  • Actually state law IS above federal law. This nation is called the United STATES, and it was, and stiil is, the STATES that bring a federal government into being. Been that way since 1789.
  • Well, at least it's only Google and not Alphabet.
  • Google is the new Apple
  • Citing The Verge website as a source? Shiver me timbers!