Google advised employees in the US who complained about racism and sexism to take medical leave and undergo mental health counselling, NBC News says.
One current employee reportedly said going on medical leave is a “normalised” event after “unproductive” talks to human resources about racism.
Two leading AI ethics researchers, who had campaigned on diversity issues, said they were fired by the company.
Google denies wrongdoing, and said it “rigorously” investigates complaints.
“We have a well-defined process for how employees can raise concerns and we work to be extremely transparent about how we handle complaints,” the company said in a statement.
“We take firm action against employees who violate our policies.”
One former staff member, Benjamin Cruz, told NBC News that they had complained to HR in 2019 after being told by a colleague that their skin was much darker than the co-worker expected.
“After I made that complaint, my work started getting pushed out from under me, but my team acted like everything was fine,” they told NBC.
“When the medical leave was recommended to me, it was like an automatic process.”
Another former employee said: “I can think of 10 people that I know of in the last year that have gone on mental health leave because of the way they were treated.”
In all, NBC’s investigation is said to have covered nearly a dozen first-hand employee accounts of similar experiences.
That includes Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, the two AI ethics researchers who lost their jobs last year.
Dr Gebru, whose firing led to an international wave of criticism of Google and widespread support from her colleagues, also said she had been encouraged to make use of “therapy resources”.
Dr Mitchell, a co-leader of the Google ethics AI team who openly supported Dr Gebru before her own firing, wrote on Twitter that the NBC investigation reflected what had happened to her.
She said that while the topic was “painful to read and relive”, it was an “incredible pinpoint of a hidden reality”.
What’s described here happened to me too. Thank you @aprilaser for surfacing.
We could make progress in tech inclusion once we stop confusing the effects (trauma) with the cause (an alienating environment).
Painful to read and re-live; incredible pinpoint of a hidden reality. https://t.co/LLwD79U2Uf
— MMitchell (@mmitchell_ai) March 8, 2021
Google is not the only major technology firm accused of failing to implement much-hyped diversity and inclusion policies.
Reuters news agency reported last week on an investigation into Facebook by a US agency concerned about possible “systemic” racial bias in hiring and promotions at the firm.
Four rejected applicants for jobs are said to have complained. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the US is investigating whether Facebook company policies are effectively discriminating against some staff on a larger scale.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on the status of the probe, or specific allegations, but said that “it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment”.
“We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case,” he told Reuters.
The investigation is ongoing, and no accusations have been levelled against Facebook by the agency.