This newsletter has noted in prior articles the significance that Google places on its workplace culture designed to encourage open debate. The culture has resulted in numerous attempts by Google employees to influence corporate policies, most notably pressing management to cancel certain contracts, including those related to the image-recognition system for the Pentagon and certain technology for use by China. Google has also run afoul of NLRB rules on employee speech, most recently in an NLRB settlement requiring it to rescind discipline against a Republican engineer who accused the company of discriminating against conservative workers.
For various reasons, the company has put in place new rules beginning this August that discourage workers from discussing politics, at least during working time. Its new guidelines are an attempt to curb disruptive internal political debates. The latest rules ask staff "to do the work we've each been hired to do, and not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics." Google also announced it would appoint employees to moderate the company's internal message boards, in effect acknowledging that the discussions have gotten out of control. The fear is that the level of debate has driven a wedge between those with opposing views as well as between management and an activist workforce. The plan is for Google to flag content that doesn't align with the new guidelines.
Last year, Google warned the employees that it would discipline anyone who discriminates or attacks colleagues or engages in discussions that are "disruptive to a productive work environment." In those guidelines, Google also advised employees to avoid name-calling, including making blanket statements about groups or categories of people.
Google's experiences also show the tension with NLRB rules which allow employees to discuss numerous issues relating to wages, hours, and terms of condition of employment, at least on non-working time.