Apple violated work rules according to US labour watchdog

Apple has been found to have broken labour laws on multiple occasions following a year-and-a-half investigation stemming from former employees’ complaints.

The National Labor Relations Board said there was sufficient evidence to support charges against the technology company after two employees accused it of workplace harassment and suppression of labour organising.

The US watchdog is recommending the iPhone maker settle with the former employees. It will only take action to prosecute, in front of an NLRB administrative judge, if the parties do not settle. More than 90 per cent of companies settle. Bloomberg first reported the findings.

The NLRB regional offices found merit to four charges that various work rules at Apple violated sections of the labour relations act because they interfered with “employees in the exercise of their right to protected concerted activity”, said spokesperson Kayla Blado.

“Additionally, a regional office found merit to a charge alleging statements and conduct by Apple — including high-level executives — also violated the National Labor Relations Act.”

One of the executives in question is chief executive 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. When the complaints first emerged in August 2021, the company 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.”

After the Financial Times published a report in August in which 15 current and former female employees alleged retaliation for raising 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 at the time. “As a result, we will make changes to our training and processes.”

The five charges were brought by two former employees. Cher Scarlett, an Apple software engineer who left the company in November 2021, is behind three. Ashley Gjøvik, a senior engineering program manager for six years who was fired in September 2021, brought the other two.

“Having a government agency definitively say that this company broke the law in what they did really matters,” said Scarlett. “This should help others feel empowered, to stand up for themselves and for others.

“Apple is the biggest company in the world,” she added. “It’s important we hold them accountable.”

Gjøvik, in a statement to the FT, added: “Apple systemically uses their secrecy policies . . . to cover up corporate malfeasance.”

The NLRB has previously sided against Apple twice, finding merit against complaints that the company had suppressed unionisation attempts at its retail stores in Atlanta and New York.

“These cases are tremendously important as Apple, being one of the world’s largest companies, is also a significant employer,” said Kristin Hull, chief executive of Nia Impact Capital, an investment group that has fought Apple’s use of non-disclosure agreements.

“Apple also sets many standards for the tech industry as far as employment, policies and procedures,” she added. “Investors need to see they are living their brand values.”

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