Google contractors allege NDAs violate free-speech laws

Google contract employees are alleging the company’s confidentiality agreements prevent them from a range of legal rights from whistleblowing to telling their parents how much they make, according to a recent court filing.

A California appeals court recently discussed a lawsuit accusing Alphabet’s Google and one of its staffing firms, Adecco, of violating a number of California labor laws, including free speech, by requiring workers to sign extensive confidentiality agreements.

The contractors state they can’t talk about their wages, working conditions or colleagues, among other things, according to the court filing. 

“As a practical matter, plaintiffs argue, they are forbidden even to write a novel about working in Silicon Valley or to reassure their parents they are making enough money to pay their bills, matters untethered to any legitimate need for confidentiality,” the filing states.

Google and Adecco did not immediately return requests for comment.

Google faces a number of challenges related to its workforce, in addition to external antitrust scrutiny. The company this week reached a $310 million settlement in a sexual misconduct lawsuit, which included more than 80 updates to internal policies. That settlement included ending forced arbitration for its workforce and updating non-disclosure agreements to allow full-time workers to discuss facts of cases related to harassment or discrimination,. But it did not definitively cover vendors — instead, the settlement said Google would “encourage” its vendors to revisit their NDA policies.

Google contractors — known internally as “TVCs” for temps, vendors or contractors — don’t have access to the same policies and perks as regular Google employees, even though they make up more than half of Google’s total workforce. Contractors have long complained about the two-tier system, which became more glaring when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

At the time, the company began cracking down on the few benefits they did have such as learning tools as contract employees petitioned for better treatment.    

According to the lawsuit filing, contractors said the rules prevent them from “disclosing violations of state and federal law, either within Google to their managers or outside Google to private attorneys or government officials.”

It also stated they can’t talk about the skills they obtained at Google if they’re looking for a job at a competitor, and can’t recommend colleagues who might be receptive to a rival job offer.

Plaintiffs also allege Adecco has an illegal policy prohibiting temporary employees placed at Google from working directly for Google without Adecco’s permission, the filing states. They also allege policies illegally prevented them from speaking out about failures to pay overtime work hours. 

“The defendant argued they communicate with government agencies regarding violations of law however, plaintiffs allege these clauses are meaningless and contrary to Google’s policies and practices of enforcement, which threaten employees for disclosing any information at all,” the filings read.

In the filing, dated Sept. 21, the appeals court reversed a lower court decision and said that plaintiffs could go forward with the case.

The latest filing comes a year after Google reached a settlement with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board to allow more open discussion on campus, which mandated the company post a list of more than 20 employees’ rights and protections at its offices for at least 60 days.

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