Updated from 11:44 am to include a statement from Google and again to add news of large tax settlement in France.
The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Google (GOOGL) - Get Report to revise guidelines that prohibit employees from voicing their political views and workplace complaints, people familiar with the case told the Wall Street Journal.
Google tells a different story, and emphasizes this was an agreement, not an order:
"There has been some misreporting this morning about Google's workplace, sparked by WSJ publishing another misleading piece about Mr. Cernekee. To be clear, we have agreed to a proposed settlement with the NLRB of Mr Cernekee's complaint. Under that settlement, we have agreed to post a notice to our employees reminding them of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. As a part of that notice, we will also remind employees of the changes we made to our workplace policies back in 2016 and 2017 that clarified those policies do not prevent employees from discussing workplace issues. There is absolutely no mention of political activity in the proposed settlement, and the updates we made to our Community Guidelines are completely unrelated and unaffected." - Google spokesperson
According to the WSJ, claims were filed by two employees who were reprimanded, and one of them terminated, allegedly for posting negative comments on social media about management, the other for posting Republican views on a company message board.
In August, Google rewrote its community guidelines to bar political discussions and statements intended to "insult, demean or humiliate" coworkers.
The NLRB says those guidelines restrict employees' rights to free speech and ordered Google to remove that section of the guidelines to encourage people to speak openly about their workplace issues and political views, the Journal reports.
Also on Thursday, Google confirmed it has reached a settlement in France to pay a large fine for tax evasion after a lengthy probe. The tech giant was ordered to pay $549 million in fines and $510 million in back taxes (€500 million and €465 million, respectively) for tax noncompliance. This ends an investigation that officially began about four years ago, as French authorities began cracking down on multinationals who declare profits in one EU country with low taxes, while being headquartered in another. Google declares most of its earnings in Ireland, reports say.
The settlement does not guarantee that an ex-Google engineer, Kevin Cernekee, the complainant who says he was targeted for touting his political views, will be reinstated at the company, as he has requested.
Monetary compensation, if any, has not been disclosed.
NLRB declined to comment due to lack of legal clearance on related documents.
"We have now settled tax and related disputes in France that have persisted for many years. The settlements comprise a €500 million payment that was ordered today by a French court, as well as €465 million in additional taxes that we had agreed to pay, and that have been substantially reflected in our prior financial results. We continue to believe that the best way to provide a clear framework for companies that operate around the world is coordinated reform of the international tax system." - Google Spokesperson
Google closed up 1.23% at $1,234.97 Thursday.