Google’s sister-firm Nest hit with ‘witch hunt’ federal labor complaint

A former employee of the Nest smart-home company – owned by Google’s parent firm Alphabet – has filed a federal-level complaint claiming to have been fired for airing grievances on Facebook.

The complaint to the National Labor Relations Board also alleges that Google and Nest conducted illegal surveillance of employees via their electronic devices, to prevent workers from speaking out about workplace conditions.

Allegedly, Nest sacked the worker for posting on Facebook employees’ complaints about Nest CEO Tony Fadell.

At issue in the case are company guidelines that bind employees to secrecy. “Everything we work on at Google—all the data and information we create, details of what we do, how we operate, and our plans for the future—is at a minimum, confidential,” the guidelines say.

Such policies are widespread in the Silicon Valley tech sector, said lawyer Chris Baker, who is representing the former Nest worker, whom he wouldn’t identify. “Many companies have these guidelines and they don’t know that they’re illegal or they don’t care that they’re illegal,” Baker said. “Tech companies are more likely to be over-inclusive in what they consider to be confidential. It is rare for me to see a Silicon Valley policy that I would consider to be legal.”

A statement posted to the website of Baker’s practice, Baker & Schwartz, refers to the reported effort to restrict Nest workers from speaking out as a “witch hunt.”

A March 2015 internal labor board memo from board lawyer Richard Griffin appears to support the complaint against Google and Nest. “Employees’ right to criticize an employer’s labor policies and treatment of employees includes the right to do so in a public forum,” Griffin wrote.

According to news website The Information, which revealed Thursday the labor board complaint filed May 18, Google security manager and former State Department special agent Brian Katz told Nest employees at a recent meeting that they should report to the company colleagues they suspected of leaking information to the media. Katz told the workers Google had a specific website for reporting colleagues, the site reported.

A Google spokesman said the company has other policies that uphold employees’ right to discuss working conditions, but that he couldn’t discuss specifics of the alleged firing or the legal arguments around the complaint.

Baker said a labor board finding in favor of his client would send a message to other Silicon Valley tech companies that they would risk similar action should they fail to change policies intended to stop workers from publicly discussing workplace conditions.

 

Photo: Nest founder and CEO Tony Fadell (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

 

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  • Matt Dillon

    Have several FB and Gmail accounts, post anonymously, use proxies and tunnels and always, always use adblockers like Adblocker Plus or Adguard on Chrome and Mozilla Focus for IPhone on Safari.

 
 
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