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Apple employee placed on indefinite leave after complaining about sexism

Ashley Gjøvik's complaints about her coworkers’ behaviour were investigated by the company, yet found to not be sexist

Apple has placed a senior engineering programme manager on indefinite administrative leave after she tweeted about sexist behaviour in the office as well as unsafe working environments.

Ashley Gjøvik had worked for the tech giant for over six years and had recently started sharing the behaviour she experienced in the workplace online. 

On her Twitter page, she detailed multiple interactions with male coworkers, including seemingly being asked to use a lower-pitched voice during a presentation. Her complaints about her coworkers’ behaviour were investigated by the company, yet found to not be sexist.

“As this investigation rolls on, I've decided to start Tweeting the stuff they say is "ok." she stated on Twitter.

Apart from allegedly sexist behaviour, Gjøvik also described Apple’s working conditions as “physically unsafe” due to “dangerous chemicals”.

Gjøvik also recounted how she was offered medical leave following her complaints, which echoed a similar case at Google Cloud earlier this year. In March, NBC News reported that the cloud giant’s HR department allegedly told an employee to take mental health leave when they disclosed an incident of racial discrimination, without taking any action against the accused. Once the employee returned from leave and applied for a new position within Google, they were turned down from every role, ultimately forcing them to quit. 

Similarly, on Wednesday, Apple decided to place Gjøvik on “indefinite paid administrative leave”. 

“I'm now on indefinite paid administrative leave per Apple employee relations, while they investigate my concerns. This seems to include me not using Apple's internal Slack,” she stated on her Twitter page.

Andy Nickolls, director of Compliance Solutions in EMEA at Skillsoft, told IT Pro that Gjøvik’s treatment is symptomatic of companies not adapting their approaches to a remote workforce.

“In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken steps aimed specifically at preventing harassment outside of the physical workplace by documenting that discussions held in public and on social media can be classified as workplace harassment. Whilst according to Hiscox, 45% of employees have observed harassment in the workplace, remote working significantly reduces the chances of having a witness. Monitoring communications is also a challenge, as more employees are using personal devices which may not necessarily maintain an audit trail or be archived,” he said. 

“By renewing their stance on defeating harassment and mistreatment, HR teams can ensure they offer the maximum level of protection to their colleagues working in the office and at home, while maintaining a strong focus on compliance. Employers also need to reiterate expectations for employees: reminding them they are at work, and discouraging them from letting their guard down. This also means limiting the use of unsecured communication channels - so they can monitor any harassment when required,” he added.

Apple is to transition back to in-office work three days a week in the autumn.

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IT Pro has contacted Apple for comment regarding their decision to place Gjøvik on leave, but the tech giant had not responded at the time of publication. 

The news follows a series of recent HR issues within the tech industry which involve an employee being placed on leave after complaining about their treatment. Late last year, Google was heavily criticised for its decision to fire their Ethical AI team co-lead Timnit Gebru. In an email to a Google mailing list sent late last year, Gebru complained that she was "constantly dehumanised" while working at Google, adding there was no incentive to hire more women at the company and that Google retaliated when she tried to raise those issues.

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