‘You’re the Problem’: When They Spoke Up About Misconduct, They Were Offered Mental Health Services

Another Google employee, who asked to remain anonymous because she still works at the company, recalled that when she complained about a racist and toxic manager, she was told that perhaps she needed resilience training. She was also offered the same options: counseling or paid medical leave. She chose the latter. A former Google employee based in London said she was also offered counseling when she came forward with sexual assault claims.

When Timnit Gebru, a former co-leader of Google’s Ethical A.I. team, raised concerns about bias in the technology giant’s artificial intelligence, she was also offered “resources on mindfulness,” she said in an email. She declined the offer, telling human resources that “no amount of mindfulness fixes a hostile work environment.”

“One of my first questions when I have new clients is, ‘Have you seen a therapist in the prior years?’” Ms. Mizrahi said. If someone had seen a therapist a long time ago for reasons unrelated to the current case and was otherwise mentally healthy until their work environment became challenging, lawyers can argue that those previous records are irrelevant and should not be handed over to the company’s lawyers in litigation.

But when there are records of contemporaneous treatment, it becomes much harder to argue that they are irrelevant to the case at hand. (Of course, in some cases, that evidence might actually end up bolstering an employee’s case.)

When a counselor or therapist receives a subpoena, they can move to have that quashed or they may seek to turn over the “minimal amount of information possible,” said Dr. Lee, of Seattle University. However, when it comes to subpoenaing an E.A.P. counselor, “I could see how there could be a potential conflict of interest,” she added.

Where counselors are located might also suggest a breach of independence, said Ms. Hull, an employment attorney. “I get really suspicious of E.A.P. counselors who are in the same building as human resources, sometimes in the same suite as human resources,” she added.

She recounted that one of her clients, not affiliated with Google, told an employer-provided counselor that she was considering hiring an attorney with complaints about her work environment. The next day, according to Ms. Hull, human resources pulled the employee aside to ask her why she was looking to hire a lawyer — a fact that she hadn’t disclosed to anyone except her counselor.

In many cases, when plaintiffs realize that their counseling and medical records might be made public in emotional distress cases, they decide to either settle or drop their claims, Ms Mizrahi said.

Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting.

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