Verily Life Sciences, the Alphabet-owned healthcare company, is suspending employee spot bonuses, as reported by Business Insider. The money will be funneled instead to fund diversity and inclusion initiatives. The move frustrated workers, many of whom have been working grueling hours on the company’s COVID-19 testing projects.
In a letter to management obtained by Business Insider, employees said the decision implied these initiatives are not a priority. They wrote: “The use of spot bonuses to subsidize social justice programs such as [email protected] for HBCUs [Historically Black colleges and universities], clinical trial recruitment of underrepresented populations, and an internal Product Inclusion group implies that these efforts are charity causes not worthy of their own investment.”
Employees asked that spot bonuses be reinstated and called for the creation of a board of executives and employees to measure progress toward diversity goals. Alphabet, Verily’s parent company, made a profit of $46.07 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019. Because of Alphabet’s strong financial position, diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be hard to invest in, the employees wrote.
Since March, Verily has been scrambling to roll out Project Baseline, a website for people across the United States who want to get tested for COVID-19. President Trump announced the project in a press conference on March 13th, wrongly stating that Google was behind the initiative. The announcement put Project Baseline in the national spotlight, at a time when it was just getting off the ground.
The pressure from this announcement — along with the very real need for COVID-19 testing and screening — resulted in long work hours for Verily employees. “If you’re not working on the weekend, you’re seen as slacking off,” an employee told Business Insider. That made the news about bonuses sting beyond the company’s implied message that diversity didn’t deserve its own investment.
“Verily taking away employee spot bonuses after what many consider to be the most grueling and difficult time of our careers show a lack of recognition,” employees wrote in the letter.
Verily CEO Andrew Conrad is set to meet with staffers from Project Baseline to discuss the letter on Wednesday. Verily did not immediately return a request for comment. In a statement to Business Insider, Verily spokesperson Carolyn Wang defended the company’s decision.
“At this time, we think it’s important we put our money where our mouth is, and direct some of our discretionary funds — such as those typically used to fund a spot bonus program (which is separate and distinct of our annual bonus program) — to bolster our efforts to ensure our products and services are accessible to the people who need them,” she said. “This requires making a few small sacrifices, but why wouldn’t we do that?”