A new investigation from The Guardian pulls no punches while detailing Google’s treatment of temporary workers, saying, “Google has been illegally underpaying thousands of temporary workers in dozens of countries and delayed correcting the pay rates for more than two years as it attempted to cover up the problem.”
The Guardian says it has seen documents indicating that Google has known about this problem since 2019, and “rather than immediately correct the errors, the company dragged its feet for more than two years, the documents show, citing concern about the increased cost to departments that rely heavily on temporary workers, potential exposure to legal claims, and fear of negative press attention.”
Google employs many temp workers for various purposes across its tech empire, and many countries in the UK, Europe, and Asia have laws that mandate those workers be paid as much as regular employees. The Guardian report says that Google hasn’t been doing this and that “Google admitted the failures and said it would conduct an investigation after being contacted by the Guardian.”
Google Chief Compliance Officer Spyro Karetsos told the Guardian:
While the team hasn’t increased the comparator rate benchmarks for some years, actual pay rates for temporary staff have increased numerous times in that period. Most temporary staff are paid significantly more than the comparator rates.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that this process has not been handled consistent with the high standards to which we hold ourselves as a company. We’re doing a thorough review, and we’re committed to identifying and addressing any pay discrepancies that the team has not already addressed. And we’ll be conducting a review of our compliance practices in this area. In short, we’re going to figure out what went wrong here [and] why it happened, and we’re going to make it right.
While Google is known for its lavish campuses and generous perks for full-time employees, the company also employs an equal number of temp workers as a second-class “shadow workforce.” Bloomberg detailed Google’s use of temp workers in 2018, saying, “They serve meals and clean offices. They write code, handle sales calls, recruit staff, screen YouTube videos, test self-driving cars and even manage entire teams—a sea of skilled laborers that fuel the $795 billion company but reap few of the benefits and opportunities available to direct employees.”
Today, The Guardian says, “The departments that rely most heavily on temporary workers include recruiting, marketing, and Waymo, Google’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary.” Internally, these employees are called “TVCs” or “temps, vendors, and contractors,” and many don’t even get health insurance.
While the US doesn’t have any equal pay protections for temp workers, an unnamed whistleblower represented by Whistleblower Aid is going after Google through the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Google may be missing something like $100 million in international pay parity liabilities in its quarterly financial reports, which would be a violation of US securities law. The Guardian also has a statement from John Tye, founder and chief disclosure officer of Whistleblower Aid:
The disclosure makes it clear that Google hasn’t just broken labor laws around the world but has misled investors about major legal and financial liabilities. The lawful, anonymous whistleblower disclosure is a critical step toward ensuring that Google is held to account. We urge the SEC to bring an enforcement action against Google and protect the rights of investors to receive complete and accurate information.
The report says an internal audit of Google’s employees showed that the company had over 1,000 temporary workers in countries with pay parity laws. Thanks to the “temporary” nature of temps, though, the number of wage theft victims over two years would be much higher than a single day’s snapshot would show. One internal memo said affected employees were being paid 12% and 50% less than they should have been.
According to the report, Google’s “extended workforce” team in charge of temp hiring was debating what to do about underpaying employees, and the team was primarily concerned about Google’s reputation rather than taking care of employees. The report quotes compliance manager Alan Barry as writing, “If and when [temps] become aware [that they are being underpaid,] they will seek recompense but will want to avoid litigation. Strategy should therefore be driven by an assessment of the internal PR/reputational risk and the risk of pay disparity becoming known within our temps population.”
Well, now they know.