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SAN FRANCISCO -- Google said Thursday that it would end its practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or assault after more than 20,000 employees staged a walkout last week to protest how the Internet company handles cases of sexual misconduct.

Workers at Google had called for an end to arbitration, among other changes, as part of the walkout. The protest was prompted by a New York Times article last month that revealed the company had given a senior executive, Andy Rubin, a $90 million exit package even after it found he had been credibly accused of sexual harassment.

The shift was announced at a delicate time for Google. Apart from the scrutiny over its workplace culture, employees have pushed back this year over issues like an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon and the company's exploration of a plan to relaunch its search platform in China. The employee protests over harassment, which followed the #MeToo movement, have been Google's largest and most public.

In an email to staff Thursday, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, said he was altering the sexual harassment policies because "as CEO, I take this responsibility very seriously and I'm committed to making the changes we need to improve."

"We will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims," he added.

Pichai also said Google would overhaul its reporting process for harassment and assault, provide more transparency to employees about incidents reported to the company and dock employees in their performance reviews if they do not complete sexual harassment training.

The company did not address some other demands by workers, including that it make its internal report on harassment public and put an employee representative on the board. It did not include temporary workers, vendors and contractors in the changes. Google said it would still require suppliers to investigate complaints raised among contractors.

At a company-wide meeting Thursday, Eileen Naughton, Google's vice president of people operations, and Danielle Brown, its chief diversity officer, presented the changes announced by Pichai, said two people who attended and who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Then Naughton and Brown, along with Susan Wojcicki, chief executive of Google's YouTube, and Ruth Porat, Google's chief financial officer, answered questions from employees, the people said. Pichai attended, but Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who sometimes appear at staff meetings, did not.

The meeting lasted over an hour, the people said. Some workers asked why contractors did not get the same protection from harassment as full-time employees. In an answer to another question about how to change Google's executive culture, Urs Holzle, a senior vice president and one of the earliest employees, urged staff to view executives as individuals and not as one group, the people said.

Business on 11/09/2018

Print Headline: Walkout prompts changes at Google

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