former Google employee speaking with caption 'Not only did they violate their contracts' (l) Google building with sign (c) former Google employee speaking with caption 'But what they were doing was telling me I'm underperforming' (r)

JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock @programm.r/TikTok (Licensed)

EXCLUSIVE: Google software engineer on medical leave laid off after enduring psychological abuse from managers

'Traumatized is an understatement.'


Tricia Crimmins


Posted on Jan 20, 2023

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, laid off approximately 12,000 of its employees on Friday. Among those laid off is Robyn Silber, a software engineer who says she was on medical leave because she was psychologically abused by her managers. She had previously shared her story on TikTok.

Silber says she received an email Friday morning stating that she has been fired from Google. She told the Daily Dot that she was set to return to Google on Feb. 1. Her leave of absence, which she says was under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), was approved in August.

While “firing” an employee on FMLA leave is unlawful termination under New York State law, the Department of Labor stipulates that if an employee is “laid off” while on FMLA leave, “the employer must be able to show that the employee would not have been employed at the time of reinstatement.”

In a TikTok posted on Jan. 7, Silber details what she calls “psychological abuse” from three of her managers at Google. She says that though she was a beginning engineer, or what’s called L3 at Google, and being compensated as such, she was doing work that was far more advanced than the level of her position.

Silber says that her managers refused to promote her to a higher level position but that she was at risk of being terminated for being in her L3 position too long. She also says she was denied performance reviews.

“You have to make growth,” Silber says in her TikTok, which on Friday had over 550,000 views. “Otherwise your manager can make the case that you’re not making the necessary career growth to get to L4 [the next level position], in which case you’re put on a performance improvement plan (PIP).”

A PIP is a plan that conditions an employee that isn’t meeting expectations to improve or lose their job; Silber says her managers threatened her with a PIP multiple times despite her success at doing work beyond her paygrade.

@programm.r Here’s *why* my managers’ actions are considered abuse. I’d rather settle this internally, but ultimately have a slam dunk lawsuit if the legal route is my only option (in which case, I’ll be seeking damages over a billion dollars given the extent of the abuse, the violation of disability laws having coerced me to apply for accommodations and then rejecting the request and penalizing me, and everything that transgressed in my life afterwards as a direct result). Given the unanimity of my colleagues who are witnesses (both inside *and* outside my org), I can’t stress enough the degree of slam dunk this case is. It’s truly in Google’s best interest to settle this internally. #lifeatgoogle #googlers #softwareengineer #techtok #performanceimprovementplan #psychologicalabuse #badmanagement #autisticatwork #autisticsavant #actuallyautistic #autismintheworkplace #juniorengineer #employmentcontract #ineedlegalhelp #lawsuit #google #employmentlawyerneeded #abusedatwork #exploited #traumatok ♬ original sound – programm.r

Google did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.

In a phone interview with the Daily Dot, Silber, who specifically worked on Google Classroom, also said she “owned” part of the infrastructure of parts of Google classroom, meaning she was the sole expert on it and led major projects for her team.

This tension of doing high-level work but still not being promoted and being threatened with termination, Silber told the Daily Dot, constituted “psychological abuse” from her managers, which she says she confirmed with the director of her program at Google.

As a result of that “psychological abuse,” Silber says she developed PTSD and went on medical leave from Google. The Daily Dot has reviewed documents provided by Silber that verify the approval of her medical leave from the Google Leave of Absence Team and state she is a recipient of short-term and New York disability benefits. Notes from her psychiatrist confirm her diagnosis of PTSD.

After thinking she would have to return to Google as a condition of her leave once it ended, Silber says she is “relieved” to not have to go back to her job.

“Management was so bad on my team. And that’s not to say all of it’s bad,” Silber told the Daily Dot. “But ultimately, I would probably be returning to the same exact situation, which would likely just re-traumatize me.”

Silber doesn’t plan to take legal action against Google due to the layoff, though she said she did consider legal action after allegedly being required to overperform while being denied “access to the opportunities of performance evaluation and career ladder.”

“Traumatized is an understatement,” Silber said.

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*First Published: Jan 20, 2023, 3:09 pm CST