Google's Confidentiality Policies Are Illegal, Lawsuit Claims

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 21, 2016 2:56 PM

We've heard of running a tight ship in the office, and it's only natural to want to protect your company secrets. But an internal "spying program" that encourages employees to snitch on possible leakers? Prohibitions on writing about potentially illegal activities, even to in-house counsel? And a ban on writing "a novel about someone working at a tech company in Silicon Valley" without prior approval? That might be taking office secrecy a bit too far, Google.

While it's not too surprising the tech giant wants to keep a firm grasp on its proprietary information, what may be a shock is that much of what Google was doing violated labor laws.

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California statutes protect employees who talk about workplace conditions and potential violations inside the company from retribution or retaliation. A new lawsuit claims Google's internal confidentiality policies violate that law by classifying "everything at Google" as confidential information, the discussion of which could get you fired. "Google's motto is 'don't be evil,'" the lawsuit points out. "Google's illegal confidentiality agreements and policies fail this test."

The employee who brought the suit, filed under the alias "John Doe," was apparently falsely accused of leaking company secrets himself and claims the company's overly restrictive confidentiality policies are "intended to control Google's former and current employees, limit competition, infringe on constitutional rights, and prevent the disclosure and reporting of misconduct."

If the suit is successful, California would collect 75 percent of any judgment, with the rest going to the company's 65,000 employees. With the number of alleged violations in the suit hitting double digits, Google is looking at a maximum fine that could reach $3.8 billion.

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In general, spying on your employees isn't illegal, as long as you have a legitimate business purpose in the surveillance and either employees consent or you monitor them in the ordinary course of business. Before setting up your own employee surveillance system, you might want to consult an experienced employment attorney.

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