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September 3, 2021

#AppleToo: Apple’s reputation as a great employer is taking a beating

By Eric Johansson

Apple’s reputation as a great employer has taken a beating with hundreds of workers sharing horror stories about working at the company under the hashtag #AppleToo on social media. In the latest development, the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) office in Oakland, California is investigating the iPhone maker over accusations of harassment and attempts by Apple to silence discussions on pay equity among employees. NLRB is a federal agency tasked with ensuring fair labour practices.

This is in sharp contrast to how the press reported on Apple a decade ago. Back then, journos seemingly couldn’t keep themselves from gushing over the Cupertino-headquartered company’s office perks. If they weren’t amazed at how employees could take breaks to play rounds of ping-pong, then reporters would marvel over how exciting the company was to work at. Business Insider even ran a story with the title ‘Why Working At Apple Is A Dream Job’.

Fast-forward to today and reports are now painting a rather different picture. In late August, the hashtag #AppleToo went viral on social media, with both current and former employees sharing stories about sexism, harassment and bullying experienced at Apple. The #AppleToo campaign against the $2.54tn titan was kicked off by a group of Apple employees who said they’d exhausted all internal options, with little change.

“For too long, Apple has evaded public scrutiny,” organisers wrote on the #AppleToo website. “The truth is that for many Apple workers – a reality faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender, and historically marginalized groups of people – the culture of secrecy creates an opaque, intimidating fortress.

“When we press for accountability and redress to the persistent injustices we witness or experience in our workplace, we are faced with a pattern of isolation, degradation, and gaslighting.”

A few days after launching the campaign, the organisers said that they’d “received nearly 500 responses, and hundreds of stories of racism, sexism, discrimination, retaliation, bullying, sexual and other forms of harassment, and sexual assault”.

Cher Scarlett, an Apple software engineer and one of the workers behind the #AppleToo movement, filed one of the complaints now being investigated by the NLRB. In a letter accompanying her charge, she said that Apple employees had started a pay equity survey in April, but that it had been blocked by Cupertino. The iPhone maker had cited privacy concerns and halted subsequent surveys for the same reason.

Scarlett told Reuters that “the last straw” was when Apple denied employees’ request to create a Slack channel to discuss pay equity.

Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager at Apple, filed the second charge now investigated by the NLRB. Her charge cites harassment by a manager, reduction of responsibilities and increases in undesirable work.

“We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised,” Apple said in a statement to Reuters that cited employee privacy in declining to discuss specifics.

Apple didn’t immediately return Verdict’s requests for additional comment on the surge of complaints levied against the iPhone maker.

NLRB hasn’t commented on the story, but is investigating all complaints it receives and escalates cases if sufficient merit is found.

Apple employees have also reportedly voiced concerns internally about the tech goliath’s plans to start scanning users’ devices for child sex images.

The news comes as companies are under mounting pressure to adopt socially responsible practices, as highlighted by a recent GlobalData report.

The researchers noted that social justice and social responsibility grew particularly important in 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

This seem to coincide with the surge of Apple employees speaking out against their employer. While Cupertino has long been known for its secrecy, the coronavirus crisis seem to have encouraged more workers to discuss pay equity and harassment concerns.