Google updates sexual harassment policies following protest

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Google has outlined changes to its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, hoping to calm outrage that triggered a worldwide walkout of workers last week. Will it be enough to quell concerns?

The new policy changes unveiled by Google have virtually met most of the requirements by Google protesters, except the one that demanded a place for an employee representative on the company's board.Organisers of last week's massive protests called for more transparency in handling sexual harassment, employee empowerment, and inequality over pay and work opportunities.

"We demand a truly equitable culture", organizer Stephanie Parker wrote in response to Pichai's November 8 email, "and Google leadership can achieve this by putting employee representation on the board and giving full rights and protections to contract workers, our most vulnerable workers, many of whom are Black and Brown women". "It's clear we need to make some changes" said Sunder Pichai in the blog post.

Most notably, Google is ending forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. But news surfaced in August that the company has been testing a censored version of its Google search product in an attempt to return to China, which is home to 772 million internet users, the biggest online community in the world.

And a specialist team will be set up to investigate sexual harassment and discrimination cases. Google is leaving the methods for discouraging drunkenness - drink limits, drink ticket systems, or the like - to its execs. Instead, Google noted that its chief diversity officer provides recommendations to the board through the company's Leadership Development and Compensation Committee. Going forward, arbitration - often a quicker way to settle employment disputes - will be optional, according to an email sent to employees on Tuesday morning.

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Google is also putting the onus on team leaders to tighten the tap on booze at company events, on or off campus, to curtail the potential for drunken misbehaviour.

Google will investigate complaints made by its contractors against employees and require that suppliers investigate complaints against contractors, the company said.

The protest took shape after Google said it had fired 48 employees in the past two years - including 13 senior executives - as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct.

"[The] company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone", continued the statement. "Perpetrators" had been drinking in about 20 percent of the harassment cases at Google, it said.

"We have the eyes of many companies looking at us", said Tanuja Gupta, one of the walkout's organizers in NY last week.

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