10th August 2017

Employee Causes Workplace Discrimination Controversy

A Google employee who wrote a controversial memo about workplace diversity has been fired for breaking the firm’s code of conduct. The memo stated that “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism” and argued, “The abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects each Googler to  do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

What Can Businesses Learn From This?

Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson is an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group. He says: “This case highlights a few important points for employers.

“Firstly, and most obviously, it shows the importance of taking quick and firm action where an employee is alleged to have been involved in misconduct. The backlash for Google had they not been seen to take quick, effective and proportionate action could have been particularly severe, and this demonstrates how an employee’s actions can affect the reputation of the business if not dealt with.

“Where an employee is reported to have breached a policy or carried out an act of misconduct, it is important to carry out a full and thorough investigation immediately, and if you find substance to the allegations, you should then proceed to disciplinary action.

Ensure You Take The Correct Action

“Secondly, the case shows the significance of having in place proper policies and procedures to inform staff what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. Here, Google had a code of conduct which set out clearly what behaviour was acceptable, and as the employee clearly breached this, they were able to act quickly as a result. Where there are no policies and procedures in place, it can often make it difficult to decide what is or is not gross misconduct, whereas a policy outlining what is will make it easier to make the decision, and will provide solid supporting evidence should that decision be tested moving forward.

“The case therefore shows that in order to manage employees properly and protect the reputation of your business, you should have clear policies in place setting out your expectations for staff, and you should act promptly and effectively when you become aware a policy may have been breached.”


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