Do you mind me asking what exactly happened?
Ive been answering this question over and over again since I got fired from Google in mid-November. The common word used by people in response to the events that have unfolded is bullshit.
This recollection is from my perspective. Im aware that in a lot of interpersonal conflicts, not all members in the conflict have the same picture of the problem.
June was an interesting month. We launched version 4.0 of Google Drive featuring Material Design. This was the first major release since v3.0 when the functionality of Docs and Sheets (and later, Slides) moved into their respective apps. Governors Ball 2015 happened the first weekend. I spent the week after Gov Ball in Colorado for work.
When I came back from Colorado, I was invited into my first meeting with HR with only a single days notice. The first meeting involved being asked a series of questions about me and another co-worker. They asked about my whereabouts that involved this co-worker, all of which happened outside the workplace. I asked why these events mattered, and they told me that an issue has been brought to their attention in such a way that is has entered the workplace, and thus is now a workplace matter.
This co-worker doesnt work on my old team, my old product, nor product organization. This co-worker wasnt with me at Governors Ball or in Colorado. This co-worker and I havent spoken about anything prior to the first HR meeting that would have prompted this issue. Not even a warning.
A follow-up meeting was held later that June with HR. They listed restrictions that I had to follow lest risk jeopardizing my employment. (1) No invites to 1-on-1s with that co-worker unless its for business purposes; (2) Dont talk to other co-workers about your relationship with that co-worker. We discussed these terms a bit more, including how they spoke to the co-worker and determined that adhering to these restrictions would resolve any issues the co-worker had with me. We also talked about the term invite, as I learnt that it meant anything that implies an invite. If this co-worker wasnt my friend at the time and wasnt friends with my other friends, this could have been simple to follow.
I took the following week off and booked a flight to Canada a few days before departure. I wanted to seek solace with friends back home. A lot of my close friends in the city worked at Google, so I felt that it was best to turn to friends elsewhere.
Prior to the first HR meeting, I hung out with this co-worker from time to time with our other friends. Not so much so after that; things felt too awkward, and my job was on the line if I were to try to invite this co-worker to speak about this. However, one evening in late July, we found ourselves walking home at the same time. I took this as an opportunity to bring up the HR issue raised last month. Our conversation was quite short as this person had other obligations that evening, but we spoke enough for me to learn several things. (1) Not all information was equally received; this person didnt know my job was the line. (2) This person initially went to HR for advice, and from the looks of it, it turned into an investigation that started with my first meeting. (3) The event that prompted this co-worker to go to HR was because of hearsay about me regarding actions claiming Ive done something, to which I refuted. After clearing up some things, this co-worker agreed to go back to HR to see what can be done to clear up this issue.
A week later, I sent a text to this co-worker asking if the HR issue was followed up on their end. This co-worker replied saying they didnt have a chance to speak to HR, saying they were too busy that week. They told me that they didnt know what to say if they were to speak to HR. I offered to reach out to HR and asked if this co-worker wanted to be in attendance when I reach out, to which they declined.
I felt that things were less awkward between me and this co-worker this month, although I wasnt in my home office for most of the month. I spent a week working from Googles main campus in Mountain View and spent another week on a road trip with a good friend of mine from university.
I wanted to follow HRs protocol before reaching out to them for a follow-up meeting. Before I left for that road trip, I contacted Googles Employee Assistant Program, as HR suggested I reach out to them if I had any issues with their restrictions. The people I spoke to suggested that I go back to HR and address my concerns directly to them as they arent able to provide any assistance around my issue.
As I felt things were less awkward between me and this co-worker, I felt that these restrictions should be removed so I can finally ask to have a proper 1-on-1 to talk about this issue at length without feeling like my job is on the line. I found some time in September to revisit the conversation I had with HR back in June. I made my request explicit: remove these restrictions as my observations and interactions with this co-worker were contradictory to my understanding of the motivations behind the restriction.
HR followed up a week later, stating that they refuse to reopen the investigation and that I still must follow those restrictions or risk termination. Another HR person was present in the meeting, handing me a printed acknowledgement to sign stating that I am aware of these additional terms, risking termination if violated. These terms were the same ones I was told to follow in June. I protested, stating how confusing the terms were and how uncomfortable this made me. They reassured that Ive been doing everything correctly because nothing has been brought to their attention since June around this issue. All HR members present in the meeting noted that the acknowledgement was very straightforward.
I contacted the people at the Employee Assistant Program again as it was protocol to do so since I still had issues with these terms. They lamented in my frustration and told me that they didnt have any services to assist me with my predicament. They told me that their legal people couldnt offer assistance because it would have been a conflict of interest on their end. I found it interesting that these people suggested legal services as thats not what I asked about. I never considered pursuing legal action; all I wanted was to remove these additional terms so I can be comfortable working at work again.
October felt like treading on thin ice. This co-worker and I were still hanging out together with our mutual friends that month. I hated the idea of removing myself from a situation in order to avoid danger, especially if the rationale behind it was due to someone elses discomfort.
I was called into another HR meeting in November, with only a two-hour notice of the meeting prior to its scheduled time. HR asked me a series of questions about me and that co-worker, in the same style as the first HR meeting. They asked about my whereabouts that involved this co-worker, all of which happened outside the workplace. After the meeting, HR concluded that they would begin investigation into the matter. HR forced me into paid leave during this investigation period, asking me to surrender my security badge, corporate laptop and devices, and to leave the premises escorted by my manager. They had my manager fetch my bag, though I wasnt sure if I left anything at my desk that I needed as I didnt expect this event to happen. They suggested that I tell them what I need as to avoid making a scene, but I told them that I didnt know what I needed. I was escorted back to my desk and gathered what I need, including a spare cellphone I owned as my active one was confiscated.
I bought a ticket to Canada the next day to seek solace with friends again. I won the H1-B lottery earlier this year, so when I felt like returning, I took that as an opportunity to enter the US with a brand new visa. A little over a week after I was escorted out, I had a phone call with HR, stating that I will no longer be working at Google as I violated the terms stated in the acknowledgement in September. They also stated the current date as my last day as a Google employee. No severance package other than instructions to return any Google-owned property in my possession and a form I needed to print, sign, and mail-in. That phone call lasted a little over six minutes.
My thoughts on how HR handled this issue.
(1) Im not sure how it would turn out if HR asked the co-worker, What have you tried?, and invited the co-worker to address the problem on their own before seeking advice. It felt like the co-worker didnt want to talk to me about it in the first place.
(2) HR seemed to miss deliverables after every meeting or were inconsistent with handling information I told them.
(3) I wasnt a fan of having separate meetings between me and the other co-worker. On the one hand, I can see how it can potentially protect the other co-worker, especially if the topic at hand is regarding discomfort in the workplace. On the other hand, I dont think the co-worker was physically uncomfortable with me, especially if they were still present in group settings outside the office.
Ive heard people mention that they should have put both of us in a room together and refuse to let us out until our issues were resolved. Although I dont think its a bad solution, Im not a fan of forcing people to talk.
(4) I didnt like how private their investigation felt. Because I feared being misconstrued and having my words disregarded during investigation, I disclosed information that I felt was necessary for them to answer their inquiries. When I was invited to meetings to move forward with any conclusions, I asked questions like, Is there anything I can do to reverse your decision?, and got a negative response. I got the same response when I was fired, which is why I didnt inquire about what actions I did to to violate the signed acknowledgement. I would have preferred to work with HR to assist in making the workplace better (that is, if I was at fault) rather than acting as an informative for HR to have them make their own decisions on what should happen in the workplace.
When I requested for the removal of my restrictions in September, I saw two different perspectives when this was rejected. Its as if I had to believe HR and that the motivations behind this restrictions were true; to believe otherwise would create premises that could put my employment at risk. Its as if I was told to disregard my observations, leaving me confused and very uncomfortable.
(5) The entire investigation felt one-sided. They resolved to deal with this co-workers discomfort by performing an investigation. They resolved to deal with my discomfort by giving me contact information to the Employee Assistant Program that, although informative, wasnt helpful.
(6) The thing I disliked the most during this ordeal was the advice given to me with HR. In regards to group scenarios where this co-worker and I could be present, I was told that those situation should be fine as I cant control what happens in group situations. I brought up an example scenario in September in which its possible that someone were to ask me to extend an invitation to this co-worker to a group event. To be told that I had to choose between work or friends was absolutely abhorrent, especially when most my friends happen to be co-workers. Im not one to lie or be dodgy to my friends or co-workers.
My thoughts on the co-worker in question. Although this co-worker doesnt work on my old team, product, or org, we have mutual friends, both inside and outside Google.
(1) The question I feel are on a lot of peoples minds when they hear this story: Why didnt the co-worker talk to you before the first HR meeting? Im not sure. I think that would have been the polite thing to do.
The fact that I wasnt notified by the co-worker in question prior to the first HR meeting was quite insulting.
(2) Some folks wonder why I bothered to try to resolve this issue. I could dodge this co-worker and avoid any group events that involved this co-worker to save my job, but that solution involves awkwardness and evasion, both of which I hate doing.
I suppose its my caring and hopeful disposition in combination of a leap of faith that I felt like this could be resolved. Weve had issues in the past prior to this HR issue and successfully worked to resolve them.
(3) This co-worker dropped the ball in July, failing to follow up with HR when they told me they would do so. I followed up on my own, though I really wouldve liked it if they were in attendance to assist in a more peaceful resolution.
If you disappear completely, you never have to deal with knowing someone is mad at you and being the bad guy.(Source)
Thoughts I have about the company after this ordeal.
Trust at Google
After getting fired from Google, I spoke to some Googlers who were curious about this issue. They told me how uncomfortable this situation made them feel and how theyre unsure as to how much trust they have with Google if this is how they handled my situation. They lamented on how uncomfortable it must have felt in how I should trust HRs word or risk losing my job, as if they run on a system of fear to keep employees in line. I also felt confusion coming from these Googlers, hearing that I got fired and to trust my word as a friend and an old co-worker, but to also respect the decision Google made to terminate my position.
I still feel that people should trust HR to do the right thing only if they trust their fellow Googlers to do the right thing in a mature, professional manner. In fact, Alphabet prefaces their Code of Conduct by asking its employees to do the right thingfollow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect. Having spoken to Googlers who dont primarily work in North America, they felt particularly perturbed as sometimes theyre unsure if any actions they could make could potentially offend another Googler with different customs. They trust that other Googlers would call each other out if there is any sort of discomfort or misunderstanding, both inside and outside the workplace, but in light of this situation, some are unsure if they can trust their co-workers to do so. As not everyone at Google holds the same customs, values, or maturity levels, we should expect HR to accommodate for our varied viewpoints.
I heard from other Googlers that some posters and signs were left in the cafeterias after my departure with words along the lines of, If you feel uncomfortable, please talk to your manager about it. One Googler jokingly commented that they wanted to scratch the last part out, replacing it with be a fucking adult about it. I havent seen photos of these signs, so Im not sure if theyre real.
In my first HR meeting, they asked if I disclosed any information about me and the co-worker in question to any other Googlers, and asked me to list out those Googlers to help with their investigation. I told them that there may be co-workers who know about the interactions between me and the co-worker in question, but I refused to provide any names, stating that I held these Googlers in high confidence and trusted them not to discuss anything I tell them in confidence with anyone else. One of the restrictions given to me was not to talk about my relationship with this co-worker to other Googlers, though I didnt really find that point necessary; Id rather that HR and Google trust that I can have privacy and close friendships with other co-workers without having anyone try to pry into these matters. It felt like they were entitled to know about our personal issues because they were people working at a company where they were a part of HR.
Calling for a More Progressive Approach to Conflict Resolution
For people who know any Googlers or past Googlers (known as Xooglers), Google offers a lot of benefits to its employees. Googlers are no more than 150 feet away from food. Lunch is provided, and in some locations, breakfast and dinner are also provided. Some offices offer onsite massages. The facilities and resources in the offices are great for downtime, from game rooms to gyms, rocking climbing walls, and swimming pools. Though not all offices have the same facilities, I feel that theyre doing the best they can with their space. Googlers are welcome to bring their dogs into work. Googles dress code is simply You must wear clothes. We have celebrity guests come to the office for Talks at Google, and we encourage Googlers to attend these talks. In fact, Ive hosted a talk before! Google also offers benefits that most other large tech companies have, including health benefits, 401k, education reimbursements, and perks for new parents.
Me (right) moderating a talk atGoogle.
Were constantly searching for unique ways to improve the health and happiness of our Googlers. And it doesnt stop thereour hope is that, ultimately, you become a better person by working here.(Source)
After speaking about this issue with friends and folks, these people felt that the set of actions taken by Google that lead to my termination sounded very unusual. Hearing how progressive the company is with how they help their employees, they expected that Google would be just as progressive with handling conflicts brought up in the workplace as they are with other services to improve the well-being of Googlers. If they took the time to get me through their hiring process and put in the effort to improve my well-being both in and outside of work, they should also take the time to work with me to ensure that I stay employed if conflicts were to come up.
With regards to my own ordeal, I felt like mediation would have been the best way to handle this issue. I felt that the private investigation performed didnt promote personal growth or camaraderie with co-workers, but enforced a hostile situation in which failure to comply would result in termination. The Employee Assistance Program didnt offer mediation between employees, or at least that wasnt offered to me as an option I could take.
Ive been told that HRs role is not to mediate issues between co-workers, but to enforce rules set out by the company. However, this approach sounds no different than how other companies handle their employees. This sounds like something I would expect from older, more conservative companies.
It feels like Googles HR is very protocol-driven, reducing a complex problem to a known solution. With regards to my own situation, it looks as if they noticed a conflict between two employees and hoped that telling each employee not to talk to each other 1-on-1 would solve this problem. I think people are a bit more complex than that, and accommodating for our complexities should be a consideration point.
It feels as if HR and the other parts of Google are disjoint. When I joined the company, I digitally signed all my forms. The acknowledgement I signed in September and the exit statement I signed when I left the company were both on paper, which I felt was quite unusual for Google.
I didnt get an opportunity to formally say goodbye to my old co-workers. On the one hand, talking about my termination at Google could make others uncomfortable and would be polite to withhold information in order to avoid some sort of scene. On the other hand, my inability to provide a full picture leaves me defenceless in trying to explain my side of the story for those who noticed my sudden departure, as if they they must trust the companys decision to terminate me as I must have done something wrong to warrant this.
How Im doing after being fired from Google.
Coping With Unemployment
Compared to any other negative period in my life, this period of unemployment take the top place as the absolute worst experience. Ive been doing some writing to help me cope during this grieving period. Unfortunately, thats pretty much all I have been doing.
In regards to my mental health, I speak about it at length in this post. Im not actively seeking help to address those issues. Those issues werent as prevalent until the day I was escorted out of Google premises. I didnt feel like seeking help then because I believed I wouldnt get fired. I believed that my mental health issues would disappear if there was a positive resolution to this HR ordeal. I believe my current issues will disappear if I come to terms with it or if a different kind of positive resolution were to happen.
Coping with unemployment as a foreigner feels like a nightmare. I came to work under an H1-B visa. I know that other non-Americans working in the US list deportation and barred entry as their top fears.
I was fired about a month before Christmas and a week before Thanksgiving. I am avoiding planning any travel plans during this period until my personal items that I left in the office are shipped back. (i.e. I wont be home for Christmas.) I have a lot of personal items and would rather not leave them unattended in front of my apartment building.
Update: I received most of my stuff on the evening of Christmas Eve. Good thing I didnt go home for Christmas. Im expecting more things.
For a company whose informal motto was Dont Be Evil, being fired a month before the winter holiday season is probably one of the evilest thing they could do. It was unfortunately timed as the holiday party, holiday gift, and the end of year raise and bonus would be coming in the following weeks. An old co-worker gave me a ticket to this years holiday party, though I was escorted out by the head of Google security a couple of hours into the party. They were told that I wasnt allowed to be at the holiday party, though I was only told by HR that I wasnt allowed at Google. For reference, the holiday party was hosted in The Waldorf Astoria this year. Security listed more places that Im banned in addition to Google; sounds like HR misinformed me again, and I didnt take note to pay attention to security as I was too distraught in the moment to listen.
Im not actively applying for positions at other companies at the moment. Im still grieving about my job loss and I feel like thinking over what I want to do with my career. If I were to apply right now with the mindset I hold, I dont think I would be showing my best when it comes to a phone screen or an interview.
If I somehow muster the energy to get over my period of grief and to apply for other jobs, I dont think Ill get any prompt response from companies looking to hire during the holiday period.
Despite these unfortunate happenstances, I would still work for Google. I dont think that this issue is representative of the entire company, and Im still a huge fan of what Google has worked on, what problems theyve solved, and what theyre currently working on. It was an unfortunate turn of events for everyone involved.
Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001)
I hope that current Googlers will change things internally. Its a bit scary for some to try to change policies of an organizational body that controls the fate of their occupational status which, for some folks in large tech companies, can mean an entire lifestyle. I know my lifestyle was heavily involved with my occupation.
During this holiday season, I will be coping with this grief in however I can. To the best of my abilities in recalling past events, I do not regret the things I have done.