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Google says it fired four employees for breaking data security rules

Some workers at the search giant, though, said management retaliated against employees for workplace organizing.

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Google workers held a rally in San Francisco last week. 

James Martin/CNET

Google has fired four employees for breaking rules related to data security, according to a staff memo Bloomberg published in a report Monday.

The terminations come days after approximately 200 Google workers and other supporters held a rally outside one of Google's San Francisco offices. The activists at the rally Friday alleged that Google management is retaliating against employees for speaking out against the search giant.

The protest was spurred by administrative actions Google took against two employees, Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers. The two were placed on indefinite leave earlier this month while the company investigates alleged policy violations, including accessing documents and calendar information that Google says was outside the scope of their jobs. Activists at Google, though, said the move is punishment for workplace organizing.

"I was just informed by @Google that I am being terminated," Rivers tweeted Monday.

Employees organizing at Google said Berland was also one of the people fired on Monday. Berland didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Three members of Google's security and investigations team cited "clear and repeated violations" of the company's data security policies, according to the note to staff. 

"This is not how Google's open culture works or was ever intended to work," Chris Rackow, Royal Hansen and Heather Adkins of the investigations team wrote in the note. "We expect every member of our community to abide by our data security policies."

A Google spokeswoman would not disclose the names of the employees who were fired, but confirmed the authenticity of the note in Bloomberg's report.

The firings are sure to intensify tensions between Google management and rank-and-file employees who have protested the company's decisions on social issues. The search giant has hired an outside firm with a history of anti-union efforts, as Google deals with uprisings from workers. The company earlier this month said it would scale back its TGIF town hall meetings, a long-standing company tradition. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the meetings will be held monthly, instead of weekly or bi-weekly, because of a "coordinated effort" to leak comments made at the internal meetings.

Activists within the search giant have protested several decisions by leadership, including the signing of an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon, Google's work in China and leadership's handling of sexual assault allegations.

In a blog post Monday, employee organizers at Google accused management of "union busting."

"Instead of upholding user trust, Google is choosing to hide unethical behavior instead of correct it, to double down on hostile workplace conduct instead of fixing it," they wrote. Google didn't immediately respond to follow-up questions about the claims. 

Originally published Nov. 25, 3:07 p.m. PT.
Update, 6:24 p.m.: Adds statements from Google employee organizers.