Google fires employees at centre of San Francisco protest

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Google's San Francisco office. Photo: Michael Liedtke/AP

Google (GOOG) has fired four employees, including at least two who were involved in recent protests in San Francisco, for allegedly sharing sensitive information.

Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland, who were suspended from the internet giant several weeks ago and spoke at last week’s rally outside one of the company’s San Francisco offices, said they were among the workers fired for what Google called “clear and repeated violations” of its data policies.

While Google has declined to identify the employees who were terminated, it confirmed the authenticity of a memo published by Bloomberg, which detailed the findings of a related internal investigation.

Rivers has been outspoken about Google’s contracts with US Customs and Border Protection. Last week, around 20 Google employees protested a company probe into Rivers and Berland, both of whom had been placed on indefinite administrative leave for allegedly sharing sensitive information.

This sparked further protests, including a San Francisco rally of 200 workers, who demanded that the pair be reinstated.

Rivers and Berland allege that they were placed on leave as a result of their activism. Berland claimed at the rally that she has been submitted to an hours-long “interrogation” by the company.

Berland said on Tuesday that all four employees had been activists, and alleged that Google fired them “in an attempt to crush worker organizing”.

The internal company memo said that there had been “misinformation circulating about this investigation”.

“We want to be clear that none of these individuals were fired for simply looking at documents or calendars during the ordinary course of their work. To the contrary, our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work,” the memo said.

Google alleges that the fired employees searched for, accessed, and distributed “business information outside the scope of their jobs” and that they repeated this conduct “even after they were met with and reminded about our data security policies.”

In a blog post, Berland said that Google had redrafted its policies, “making it a fireable offense to even look at certain documents”.

“We knew then, and it’s clear now: this policy change was setting up an excuse to retaliate against organizers, allowing the company a pretext for picking and choosing who to target,” Berland said.