Protocol | Workplace

The Google union is demanding more protection for sexual assault survivors

More than 1000 employees are petitioning the company to change the way it treats survivors after one worker said the company is silencing her.

A Google office.

More than 1000 employees are petitioning the company to change the way it treats survivors after one worker said the company is silencing her.

Photo: John Nacion/Getty Images

The Alphabet Workers Union has launched a petition to demand Google change its standard practices for handling reports of sexual assault so that survivors cannot be pressured to take leave or enroll in employee assistance therapy, and so that workers are immediately paid for leave when they do choose to take it.

At least 1,200 people have signed the petition so far, called Justice for Jessica, after Googler Jessica Ming Tao wrote on Instagram that she was raped by a coworker on May 28 and that Google pushed her to take unpaid leave after she reported the rape to human resources.

"We've been seeing this over and over at Google. A new person comes forward, we protest, we walk out. But just feels like we are not getting the substantive change that is really needed," said Raksha Muthukumar, a spokesperson for the AWU. Often during the investigation process after someone reports assault, survivors end up in what Muthukumar called "limbo." "Meanwhile, survivors are extremely traumatized and often have to leave the company because they can't go to work every day waiting for three months for the company to say you are valid in your accusations," she said.

Former Google workers have reached out to both Muthukumar and Tao to share their own experiences dealing with what they describe as the long and frustrating process of HR investigations. The women want Tao to know that her experience at Google is not unique. "It leads the question: What are the processes that Google is putting into place for survivors, and why is it not aligned with anything survivors want?" Muthukumar said.

Pushing for changes for survivors is a serious AWU priority, she added. Google has a long-held reputation for advising that employees either opt for therapy or medical leave as the primary solution when they allege instances of harassment, racism and discrimination internally.

"It feels like it's become this really cumbersome process where a lot of the work is on survivors, and it's about their level of patience and willingness to put up with the investigation. It feels very ridiculous and cold," Muthukumar said.

Google said that it encourages workers like Tao to report anything that could be a crime to law enforcement, that the company did not force Tao to go on leave, and that Tao will be paid for her time on leave after certain documentation has been filed.

"Google put me on unpaid leave and threatened me with 'escalation' to keep me quiet," Tao wrote in her Instagram post. The post was later removed by Instagram, and a second post was also removed.

"We have been in frequent contact with Ming during her leave, and continue to provide support and make resources available to her. We take her complaint incredibly seriously, and we're actively working on this matter," a Google spokesperson wrote in an email to Protocol.

Tao did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

If you or a loved one needs help:

Call RAINN's sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673, 24 hours a day.

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