America’s largest tech companies are some of the most profitable and powerful corporations in the world, with values in the hundreds of billions of dollars and in some cases, trillions. Given such size, America’s tech companies, and more specifically, their stances on labor and employment policies, have significant influence over a broad swath of American workers’ lives and wellbeing at the workplace. With 2022 halfway through, Teukolsky Law would like to take a moment to recap some of the most notable labor and employment developments across some of our country’s largest tech companies.
Amazon: 2022 has been a historic year for Amazon workers. In April, employees at a massive Amazon warehouse in Staten Island voted by a wide margin to form a union, the first successful unionization attempt by Amazon workers in the company’s history. Some commentators viewed the vote as milestone event that might signal a turning point in workers’ organizing efforts against Amazon, a company many union leaders consider a massive threat to labor standards.
Google: In June, Google agreed to pay $118 million to resolve a California state class action brough on behalf of over 15,000 former employees who accused the company of underpaying women. The lawsuit, which was filed in 2017, accused Google of paying women less than men for equal or similar work. The former employees alleged that Google slotted female employees into lower “salary bands” than men, put them in lower-paying positions, and failed to promote them- practices which, according to the former employees, violated California’s equal pay act, Unfair Competition Law, and Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
After the settlement was reached, the women involved and their attorneys expressed optimism that the settlement’s provisions will ensure more equity for women at Google.
Microsoft: In January, Microsoft’s board announced that the company had selected a law firm to review its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies. The announcement came after shareholders expressed concern over how Microsoft and one of its founders, Bill Gates, had treated women employees. The review will produce a report with results of any sexual harassment investigations in recent years against the company’s directors and senior executives.
On the labor front, a group of workers at Activision Blizzard, a large video game company currently being acquired by Microsoft, voted in May to unionize, a first for a major North American video game company. Weeks after the deal, in June, Microsoft reached an agreement with the Communications Workers of America Union to make it easier for Activision Blizzard’s employees to unionize.
Legislation: The first half of 2022 has seen the passage of landmark federal employment legislation. In March, President Biden signed H.R. 4445 into law, preventing employers from using forced arbitration clauses to protect themselves from lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment. The law does so by invalidating forced arbitration clauses in “any dispute or claim that arises or accrues” after the date it was signed into law. H.R. 4445 figures to be a significant development for the tech industry, in light of the male-dominant and sexist culture that pervades Silicon Valley.
Powerful state employment legislation was also passed during the first half of 2022. In Washington, Governor Inslee signed the “Silenced No More” act into law in March. The law bars employers from making nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) a condition of employment or settlements and affects some of the largest tech companies in the world, including Amazon and Microsoft. Washington’s law mirrors California’s own Silenced No More act, which already has prompted Salesforce and its subsidiary, Slack, to extend Silenced No More protections to all of their employees across the country.
If the first half of the year is any indication, 2022 will represent a significant victory for both the labor movement and workers in the tech sector.
In a proxy statement ahead of its annual shareholders’ meeting, Google stated that employees who have signed confidentiality agreements can still talk about assault, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation they experience at the workplace. The announcement marks Google’s clearest stance yet on its non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and is another victory for advocacy groups that have been working to eliminate workplace NDAs, which have become increasingly restrictive and prevalent over the past several years.
Google’s statement makes clear that employees are allowed to discuss working conditions and wages with each other, and that any employees who have signed settlement or severance agreements—even those containing NDAs—are still allowed to talk about any sexual assault, discrimination, harassment, or retaliation they experienced.
Though the statement did not constitute a concrete policy change, it offered an explicit promise that Google employees may now hold the company to, should they ever bring claims against the company.
The inclusion of language regarding the company’s concealment clause and NDA policies was prompted by a shareholder proposal that would have required Google to issue a public report studying the impact of NDAs on harassment and discrimination claims. Such a request came on the heels of states such as California and Washington passing “Silenced No More” laws, which have barred employers in each state from using NDAs to stop employees from publicly discussing harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other illegal workplace practices.
If you believe you have been subjected to illegal workplace practices and are being prevented from discussing your experience because of an agreement from your employer, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.