Apple Employee Blows Whistle on Illegal Spying and Toxic Working Conditions

Silicon Valley is well-known for its role in the surveillance system, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bosses are increasingly using a range of tech industry tools to keep them in check. constant tabsThey insist on their employees working from home, despite statistics showing that remote workers are more productive. more productiveThey work harder than their counterparts in office buildings.

But one woman who worked for the tech industry’s biggest company is fighting back. Ashley Gjovik is a former Apple project manager who was fired in SeptemberAfter speaking out about workplace safety concerns Gjovik asked labor regulators for a ruling that the company uses illegal surveillance tactics. Gjovik filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing Apple of a variety of unfair labor practices. This includes keeping tabs on employees in a way that prevents them exercising their right of discussing working conditions.

Gjovik also alleged that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by retaliating against her for voicing concerns about workplace safety stemming from the fact that Apple’s office building in Sunnyvale, California, is situated on top of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-designated Superfund site, an area contaminated by hazardous industrial waste that is supposed to have been cleaned up and containedIf humans are within the vicinity, If Gjovik prevails, the NLRB could issue a ruling curtailing employers’ abilities to surveil workers and chill their speech.

Gjovik has filed many other complaints to various workplace safety regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission. She has meticulously documented her experiences, as evidenced by her personal website.

This week, the Department of Labor ruled that Gjovik’s complaints had merit, and that the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would be investigatingShe filed whistleblower retaliation claims. Stephen Kohn, a whistleblower law expert, told the Financial Times that it was unusual for OSHA to investigate such allegations because companies often “silence and intimidate” employees and because those filing charges must establish that their case is likely to succeed.

“Most of us know that there’s some level of pollution in our day-to-day lives, but there’s still a lot of trust in the government and companies to do the right thing when it comes to poisoning people,” she told Truthout.

In her NLRB complaint alleging illegal surveillance by Apple, Gjovik cited the company’s handbook, which reserves the right to search employees’ work equipment and their personal devices “to protect Apple confidential and sensitive information.” The company defines its proprietary information to include “compensation, training, recruiting, and other human resource information.”

All employees are covered by federal labor law have the right to discuss their working conditions “for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” The NLRB has ruledManagement cannot spy on employees exercising their rights.

The Apple handbook includes a footnote stating that the company is not attempting to restrict its employees’ “rights to speak freely about wages, hours, or working conditions as legally permitted.” But Apple policy also generally forbids employees from making any public disclosures without prior approval, including statements to the press, and it orders employees to refrain from discussing “compensation, training, recruiting, and other human resource information” after leaving the company, which it attempts to enforce through non-disclosure agreements. The handbook also bars employees from sharing information about their coworkers’ “compensation, health information, or performance and disciplinary matters” without any footnotes about “rights to speak freely about wages, hours, or working conditions,” according to Gjovik’s complaint.

Gjovik was also charged with filing charges with the NLRB. a memo circulatedAfter details of a meeting that included discussion about pay equity were leaked to the media, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded. Cook responded to the disclosure by vowing “to identify those who leaked” and by saying “people who leak confidential information do not belong here,” contradicting any stated policy granting employees the right to discuss their working conditions.

Gjovik also spoke. Truthout that when she informed someone on Apple’s employee resources team that she had the legal right to speak publicly about working conditions, he replied, “Most people don’t figure that out.”

Apple has declined to comment on specific questions regarding Gjovik or Apple workplace activists. For example: the company told Slate: “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.”

Apple has not responded Truthout’s request for comment on Gjovik’s claim that a member of its employee resources team told her that the majority of Apple employees aren’t aware of their rights in the workplace.

Gjovik’s conflict with Apple management started in March, when an administrative assistant emailed her team about the company’s Environmental Health and Safety division wanting to conduct a “vapor intrusion survey” in the Sunnyvale office. The phrase set off “alarm bells” for Gjovik, who had spent the last six months battling her apartment’s property managers after becoming ill and learning that the residence was built on top of another EPA Superfund site.

“My body was just going crazy. It was a nightmare. I was buying books on terminal illness,” Gjovik said.

Things started to go south after she applied the lessons she had learned from her struggles at home. Gjovik responded to the administrative assistant’s email by asking her management team if Apple had conducted comprehensive air quality tests, citing an Atlantic Article from 2013The document showed that the Sunnyvale Building was right next to three triple fund sites. Apple began leasing the property in 2015, hadn’t conducted any tests since moving in, and did not inform employees of the hazardous waste underneath them, Gjovik alleged, noting that she herself discovered the lack of testing in public records after learning how to do research through her apartment ordeal. She said that management claimed that they didn’t have to inform employees of the situation because there was no evidence of air quality issues. Gjovik replied that they lacked the evidence because they didn’t perform proper tests.

Gjovik began to receive evidence from management that she was being retaliated against. HR opened a sexual harassment investigation into one of Gjovik’s superiors that she did not want initiated out of fear that hostility from above would worsen. Gjovik began receiving unrealistically many work assignments. One boss cited Gjovik’s “mental health issues” in urging her to drop her concerns about the Superfund site. Additionally, she says, superiors told her not to raise questions about workplace safety — always over the phone or in person. Gjovik tried to document these statements by replying to emails with notes about the conversations and asking if she missed anything.

Things started to get more serious by the middle of summer. On July 23, Gjovik made The New York TimesQuote of the Day: Apple management wanted its employees back to work after the Delta variant of COVID-19 began to spread across the country. Around the same time, she took to the company’s messaging platform, Slack, to ask her coworkers if they have had negative experiences dealing with HR, receiving numerous responses in the affirmative. In early August, after informing employee resources, Gjovik asked colleagues working in the office to document cracks in the floor — a sign that vapor intrusion may be occurring. Gjovik received the photographs and was informed by her colleagues. She planned to visit the office the following day to collect evidence. On the day she planned to visit the office, she was informed she was being placed on paid administrative leaves. On September 9, after Gjovik received a request from Apple management to cooperate with an investigation about “a sensitive Intellectual Property matter,” she agreed to cooperate but never found out what it is they were trying to discover. Gjovik requested that the inquiry be conducted over email. Subsequently, she was fired.

Gjovik was fired the night before she received a Twitter message from a random follower, urging her take steps to protect herself and her privacy. The message was general in nature, and he had previously experienced private sector surveillance. Hours later, she asked her followers on Twitter if it would be. “over-paranoid” to worry about the security of her messages on Apple’s iCloud. Soon after, she started to remove her personal information from Apple servers. ProtocolGjovik began unplugging smart devices in her house. She said Truthout that she has no proof of the company using non-public information against her, but noted that internet trolls defending Apple have used information that she has not shared about her health and compensation to insult her, calling the matter a “nightmare sandwich.” Gjovik has also documented how supervisors at Apple were warning her to be wary of private-sector surveillance when she told them how she was locking horns with her property management company.

But there is a silver lining and an end to this nightmare. Gjovik is hoping that complaints she has filed with workplace regulators will prevent Apple and other massive companies from bullying and mistreating employees, especially workers who aren’t as well-compensated as she was. Already, it appears that the complaints Gjovik filed after she was placed on administrative leave could bear fruit. Her case was not only advanced by the Department of Labor, but also the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. told GjovikIn September, Gjovik was granted the right in state court to sue Apple for creating hostile work environments. Experts familiar with the NLRA, including former NLRB officials, have said that Gjovik has a strong case against Apple — especially her complaint about CEO Cook threatening the employees who leaked details about the meeting concerning pay equity.

“What he’s saying here goes too far,” NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman told BloombergThe Cook memo. “It’s restrictive of people’s ability to talk about employment policies.” Mark Gaston Pearce, another former NLRB chair who, like Liebman, led the Board during the Obama administration, tweeted that Gjovik’s case could be “a vehicle” to reverse pro-management rulings by the Board under the Trump administration. Jennifer Abruzzo is the General Counsel of the NLRB, and has the power for Board agents to advance cases that could become precedent. has asked regional offices to pursue cases designed to expand the definition of “concerted activity,” which was narrowed under Trump, including those involving handbook policies like the ones flagged by Gjovik. Abruzzo also noted November 4 the Board has ruled that concerted activity includes “protesting unsafe working conditions and asserting statutory rights, like filing a claim with [OSHA].”

Gjovik claimed that she is suing the company for misrepresenting its treatment of employees. The complaint revolves around Nia Impact Capital, a shareholder. alleged that AppleEmployer litigation risk is created by the company’s insistence on a culture that is more secretive than necessary to protect its trade secrets. The company responded by claiming that “Apple does not limit employees’ and contractors’ ability to speak freely about harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful acts in the workplace.” Gjovik’s SEC complaint alleges that these are “false & misleading statements of material importance” by Apple, citing an agency commissioner who warned in September 2020 against companies engaged in “woke-washing where companies attempt to portray themselves in a light they believe will be advantageous for them on issues like diversity.”

Gjovik has not found much pleasure from any of it. She shared the following: Gizmodo that working for Apple was a “dream” job, and although she held a high-pressure position, she was paid well and proud of her work. She was placed in a position where she feared her safety and health, and received significant pushback from the company for raising concerns. She now wants to use this opportunity to advocate for herself and others.

“I was a very senior employee who gave them my blood, sweat and tears. If they’re doing it to me, what the fuck are they doing to retail?” she asked rhetorically. “I’m going to file as much shit as I can.”

Correction: An earlier version stated that Gjovik had visited Sunnyvale’s office in early August to photograph cracks in the floor.