Google Places Limits on Workplace Discussions

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. June 28, 2018

​Google—known for its culture of open debate—has released guidelines saying it will discipline any employee who discriminates against colleagues or engages in discussions that are disruptive to a productive work environment, according to The Wall Street Journal. The rules come nearly a year after the company dismissed an engineer who wrote a memo criticizing the company's diversity programs and saying that gender differences might partly account for women's underrepresentation in the technology sector.

We've rounded up the latest news articles on Google's new guidelines. Here are SHRM Online resources and news articles from other trusted media outlets.

Trolling Targeted

The rules aim to reduce trolling, where people are provocative online to get strong reactions, and curb blanket statements about groups of people. Google provides employees with e-mail discussion groups and a message board to share ideas but has struggled to keep debates among employees under control. Workers have shared views on a wide range of social and political beliefs, discussions that some have viewed as a drain on productivity.

(The Wall Street Journal)

Employees Also Will Be Disciplined for 'Doxing'

Google also is seeking to prevent "doxing," which is posting online the private information of co-workers, such as home addresses. Following the engineer's dismissal, harassment allegedly cropped up on Google's forums. Diversity advocates said that co-workers leaked personal information and comments from the internal forums to far-right websites, which led to threats and slurs.

(USA Today)

Google Seeks to Clarify Policies

A Google spokesperson said the company was seeking to formalize its policies after there was incivility on all sides of internal debates about diversity and politics. The guidelines were based on feedback from employees and designed to remind workers to be civil, so that Google could preserve the company's open and transparent culture. The new code of conduct was written after 2,600 employees signed a petition calling for a safer workplace.


[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

Company Values Transparency

Google prides itself on openness. Employees can use a message board to criticize management and challenge executives with questions. Employee input on about 87,000 Google groups ranges from the optimal office temperature to the type of detergent the company should use for laundering employee towels. The open atmosphere helps keep the company from being bound by the conventions that stifle more stodgy companies.

(The New York Times)

Word Policies Carefully

Anti-harassment policies should be written carefully so employees aren't under the misimpression that they are guaranteed not to be offended in the workplace, recommended James McDonald Jr., SHRM-SCP, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Irvine, Calif., at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition. For example, he advised against using such phrases as "zero-tolerance policy" and "hostile working environment." Some employees misinterpret the latter phrase as encompassing rude or gossipy co-workers.

(SHRM Online)


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