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Google workers demand changes to corporate harassment policies

The letter to CEO Sundar Pichai comes after a searing op-ed in the New York Times from a former Google engineer.

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Employee protesters at Google headquarters in 2018.

James Martin/CNET

More than a thousand workers at Google parent company Alphabet signed a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday, demanding the company updates its policies on handling harassment. 

In the letter, employees call on the company to ban people who are found to be harassers from managing direct reports. That includes "dotted line" reports consisting of temps, vendors and contractors. The employees also demand that harassers be forced to change teams from the person they harassed.

"Alphabet does not provide a safe environment for those who face harassment in the workplace," said the letter, which at the time of this writing had been signed by 1,013 workers. "Even when HR confirms harassment, no action is taken to make the reporter safe."

The petition comes a day after former Google software engineer Emi Nietfield published an op-ed in The New York Times about her experience dealing with harassment at the tech giant. In the essay, she describes having to sit next to her harasser, even after internal investigators corroborated Nietfield's claims. 

"I was constantly on edge from seeing my harasser in the hallways and at the cafes," Nietfield wrote. "When people came up behind my desk, I startled more and more easily, my scream echoing across the open-floor-plan office." 

Google didn't respond to questions about whether it would comply with or consider the two demands laid out in the letter. Instead, a spokesperson said the company had "made significant improvements to our overall process, including the way we handle and investigate employee concerns, and introducing new care programs for employees who report concerns." 

Google has for years faced criticism over the way it handles harassment. In 2018, more than 20,000 workers around the world walked out of their offices to protest the company's response to harassment claims against Andy Rubin, the creator of Google's Android mobile software. Instead of being punished, Rubin was reportedly rewarded with a $90 million exit package.

"The person who reports harassment is forced to bear the burden, usually leaving Alphabet while their harasser stays or is rewarded for their behavior," employees wrote in Friday's letter.