Recent reporting by publications such as the New York Times and The Guardian has publicized allegations that Google has illegally underpaid thousands of temporary workers for years. By paying temporary workers considerably less than full-time employees who do similar work, Google is allegedly in violation of labor laws in several countries.
Google’s violations were outlined in a whistleblower complaint filed in June with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). While the pay discrepancy does not seem to violate U.S. labor laws, the whistleblower complaint alleges that Google is in violation of U.S. securities laws because it misled investors about the possible risks associated with its pay discrepancy. The whistleblower claims that Google may owe over $100 million in back pay, as well as millions more in fines and penalties.
According to the complaint and reporting, Google management discovered the pay discrepancy issues back in 2019. However, instead of immediately addressing the issue and raising the pay of all temporary workers, reports state that management simply instituted the proper pay-scale for new hires starting in 2021. Thus for multiple years, Google has allegedly knowingly underpaid temporary workers compared to full-time employees doing similar work. While the U.S. does not, over 30 countries have some sort of pay parity laws for temporary workers.
“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,” John Tye, founder and chief disclosure officer of Whistleblower Aid, the group representing the anonymous whistleblower, told The Guardian. “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.”
Through the SEC Whistleblower Program, qualified whistleblowers, individuals who voluntarily provide the SEC original information that leads to a successful enforcement action, are entitled to a monetary award of 10-30% of funds recovered by the government.
The 2021 fiscal year has been a record year for the SEC Whistleblower Program. Since the fiscal year began on October 1, 2020, the SEC has awarded approximately $397 million to 97 individuals – both fiscal year records. Early in the fiscal year the SEC also set a record for the largest award in program history when it issued a $114 million award.
Over the past year, Google has received criticism for its own internal handling of whistleblowers. Both Google employees and shareholders have demanded that the company strengthen its whistleblower protections for employees.