Apple engineers complain of hostile work environment to US labor watchdog

Harassment, bans on discussing pay, responsibilities slashed, and more alleged

Updated The US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – which investigates complaints against employers – is to examine claims made by two Apple employees, including allegations of unfair changes to working conditions, harassment, and muzzling pay equity discussions.

Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager at Apple who filed her complaint on August 26, told Reuters she experienced at the very least "harassment by a manager, reduction of responsibilities, and increases in unfavorable work."

According to the FT, Gjovik was placed on indefinite paid administrative leave last month while Apple investigated her claims of a hostile work environment.

Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett filed a separate complaint with the labor watchdog on September 1, telling Reuters Apple "repeatedly stopped discussions of pay among employees." In various states in the US, including Apple's home state of California, bosses are explicitly not allowed to stop employees talking about their compensation.

Scarlett said the tipping point for her in bringing her complaint to the labor watchdog was when Apple execs refused to allow staff to create a channel on an internal Slack workspace to discuss pay, claiming it was off topic for their work. Yet, the workspace had channels for non-work things like pets.

Over the past couple of weeks, some Apple staff have revealed on Twitter what it's like working at the iGiant, using the hashtag Appletoo. Linked to this, a website by the same name was also launched by Scarlett and her friends to collect and share the experiences of those at the global tech giant. She published the first set here at the start of this week.

"A group of Apple workers have joined together to organize and protect ourselves," the website stated.

"We are asking fellow Apple workers who want to see real change at Apple to share their stories. When our stories are collected and presented together, they help expose persistent patterns of racism, sexism, inequity, discrimination, intimidation, suppression, coercion, abuse, unfair punishment, and unchecked privilege."

Those behind the website insist they've tried to voice their concerns within recognized and established internal channels of reporting. But they claim a lack of progress and increased frustration has forced them to go public and make some of their complaints known more widely. The first batch of stories shared by Scarlett include allegations of hostile work environments, discrimination, and harassment.

In light of the formal labor board inquiry, it seems likely more tales will emerge.

The Register asked Apple to comment on the complaints lodged with the board, and the broader concerns raised from #AppleToo. We were also keen to know if these complaints were limited to the US, or if there was any sign that grumblings about corporate culture could spread beyond the US, and in particular, the UK.

So far, we've yet to hear back from Apple. Big shock, we know.

However, in a statement to the Financial Times, the iPhone maker said: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters." ®

Updated to add

The AppleToo website on Friday published an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, declaring:

At Apple, we are called upon to do the right thing, and that must extend to how we treat employees. We are reaching out because Apple must fulfill its promise of inclusion, diversity, and equity. We demand an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome and has the promise of equal opportunity and treatment.

The letter goes on make a number of requests, such as an end to Apple strong-arming its staff into syncing their personal iCloud accounts with their work devices – a move that grants Apple bosses and legal teams deep access into their employees' personal lives.

"This has resulted in many workers' personal data being expected to be searchable by Apple, per their policies. This is an unacceptable violation of our privacy," the group stated.

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