Google's HR Chief to Step Down as Worker Tensions Intensify

By Victoria Song on at

Google’s VP of People Operations Eileen Naughton will be stepping down later this year. Naughton, who has been at the company for 13 years, became the company’s head of human resources back in 2016 and has since overseen the breakdown between management and rank-and-file employees.

Google is downplaying the impact of worker tensions with regard to the news. The company told Fortune, which initially broke the news, that Naughton wasn’t leaving the company entirely. She will purportedly take a new role at an unspecified time and date. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Google’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat are expected to search for her replacement.

“Over the past 13 years, Eileen has made major contributions to the company in numerous areas, from media partnerships to leading our sales and operations in the UK and Ireland, to leading our People Operations team through a period of significant growth – during which over 70,000 people started their careers at Google,” Pichai said in a statement.

It’s also true that Naughton’s tenure has been marked by increasing unrest among Google employees – starting with how the company handled sexual harassment. In particular, employees were outraged upon finding out that Google gave a $90 million payout to Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, after an investigation into Rubin’s sexual misconduct. What followed were massive protests involving thousands of Google employees spanning more than 70 Google offices worldwide.

Sexual harassment isn’t the only issue that’s incited employees’ anger, however. The company canceled an all-hands meeting in 2017 regarding an anti-diversity memo that was circulated internally at the company. During that time, Google also fired and disciplined employees for speaking out about diversity.

Back in November, Google also fired four employees in an internal crackdown against dissent. The move followed a sudden decision to cancel the company’s well-known TGIF all-hands meetings. Then in December, Google fired another employee saying she violated internal policies. However, that employee claimed in a Medium post that the firing was in retaliation for creating a popup in Chrome on company machines stating “Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities” whenever someone accessed Google’s community guidelines policy or the website of IRI, a union-busting firm that Google recently hired.

In light of the intensifying tensions, it’s not a huge surprise that Naughton is noping out. Though, as you might expect, Naughton made no mention of it in her statement announcing the decision. “My husband and I have decided – after six years on the road, first in London and now San Francisco – to return home to New York to be closer to our family,” Naughton said. “I’m at the very beginning of the process, and wanted to let everyone know upfront, as I’ll be working with Sundar and Ruth to find a great leader for the People Operations team.”