Google illegally underpaid thousands of temporary workers in 16 countries, with more than $100 million thought to be owed.
The company realized it was breaking the law, but tried to cover up the failure rather than pay its workers the correct wage.
The Guardian reports that executives at the cloud and search giant were aware that Google was failing to comply with pay parity laws in the UK, Europe, and Asia since at least May 2019.
In those regions, corporations are required to pay temporary workers the same as they pay full-time employees, and in some they are required to provide the same benefits. The US does not have such pay parity protections.
A whistleblower represented by Whistleblower Aid has filed a complaint about the alleged violations with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, claiming at least $100m is owed.
Google is thought to spend around $800 million a year on temporary workers. It also uses contractors and third-party vendors.
The company mapped out its temporary roles and their full-time equivalents back in 2013, and has used that to create “comparator” rates. However, in the years that have followed that pay for full-time Googlers has increased dramatically. The comparator rates were never updated.
When the issue was discovered in 2019, the company spent two years debating how to react - whilst continuing to underpay temps. In 2021, it decided to pay the higher, legally-required, salary to new hires.
Existing temps would be kept on the lower salary, and former temps would be simply victims of wage theft. In an email seen by The New York Times, Google compliance manager Alan Barry said that adjusting the rates or all of its temps was the correct move from a “compliance perspective," but noted that it would increase the chance that temps would “connect the dots.”
He added: “The cost is significant and it would give rise to a flurry of noise/frustration. I’m also not keen to invite the charge that we’ve allowed this situation to persist for so long that the correction required is significant.”
Following The Guardian and NYT's reporting, Google's chief compliance officer Spyro Karetsos said in a statement: “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 going to figure out what went wrong here, why it happened, and we’re going to make it right."