Employee Watchdog: Apple Violated U.S. Labor Law

January 31, 2023

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday said Apple had broken labor laws by maintaining a workplace that discourages employees from discussing working conditions.

The federal watchdog’s conclusion followed a year-and-a-half long investigation stemming from two former employees’ complaints, Cher Scarlett, an Apple software engineer who left the company in November 2021, and Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager for six years who was fired in September 2021.

The former staffers accused the tech and media giant of workplace harassment and suppression of labor organizing. The NLRB found there was sufficient evidence to support their charges.

One of the executives targeted in their complaint was Apple CEO Tim Cook, who in a September 2021 email to staff said, “People who leak confidential information do not belong here.” Some employees protested, saying they had the right to speak about protected issues, including workplace harassment and pay transparency.

Apple declined to comment on the NLRB’s findings. Nor did an NLRB spokeswoman immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, when the complaints first emerged in August and September 2021, Apple 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.”

Further, after the Financial Times published a report in August 2022 in which 15 current and former female employees alleged they were retaliated against for having raised complaints to human resources, Apple acknowledged it had not always lived up to its own values.

“There are some accounts raised that do not reflect our intentions or our policies and we should have handled them differently, including certain exchanges reported in this story,” Apple said of the Financial Times’ report. “As a result, we will make changes to our training and processes.”

In 2018 CEO Cook had spoken out about Apple’s commitment to “helping more women assume leadership roles across the tech sector and beyond,” and launched an initiative called “Apple Start,” aimed at training and mentoring female entrepreneurs building apps.

Gjovik in an email on Tuesday said she hoped the NLRB’s findings would spur more Apple employees to speak up about working conditions and to organize.

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