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Google's Confidentiality Agreements Might Be Illegal, If Lawsuit Claims Are True

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 04, 2017 12:57 PM

A Google employee claims the company has internal spies and encourages workers to report each other for violating company rules and demanding that they keep everything secret.

It's almost as good a story line as The Internship, the comedy set at Google's headquarters, except this story is not so funny. It's a lawsuit, and Google is not laughing.

"We will defend this suit vigorously because it's baseless," Google said in a statement. "We're very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture."

Anonymous Confidential?

In the lawsuit filed in San Francisco, the John Doe plaintiff says Google requires employees to sign illegal confidentiality agreements and urges them not to put admissions of company wrongdoing into writing to guard against information getting to outsiders who "may not be friendly to us."

The complaint cites numerous violations of labor laws, alleging the confidentiality agreements wrongfully prevent employees from talking about their wages, working conditions, or complaining to the government about illegal activities. The agreements even prohibit employees from writing fictional accounts about "working at a tech company in the Silicon Valley," the lawsuit alleges.

Leak This

The plaintiff says he sued anonymously because Brian Katz, Google's director of investigations, announced to Google employees that he was terminated for leaking information to the media. The plaintiff denied that he leaked any information, and said that Katz did not name him specifically but identified him by reference as a scapegoat to show what happens to employees who violate the company's confidences.

Google enforces confidentiality internally through a program called "Stopleaks," an internal website for employees to report suspicions about other employees. Violations of the reporting policies may result in termination, the lawsuit says.

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board is also reviewing a similar complaint by an anonymous ex-Google employee. The board recently struck down confidentiality agreements and contracts that discourage workers from discussing problems at T-Mobile USA Inc., DirectTV, and other companies.

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