Google’s moonshot project division Google X, (now simply known as “X), has had one of its team members collapse on the job in February 2015.
The incident happened despite the team having complained to their supervisors about the work hours and conditions. All complains fell on deaf ears.
The employee who has a military background and who wished to remain anonymous, was assigned to fieldwork for Project Wing – X’s program to create delivery drones for delivering everything from food to medicine to consumers at their doorsteps.
The Project Wing drone was based on a single-wing design that took off and landed upright, like a helicopter. But the drone kept toppling over on its nose upon landing something that Google engineers wanted corrected immediately – this created demand for plenty of data on Project Wing drones.
As a result the flight-test crew were tasked to resolve the landing error and had to work for 10- to 12-hours everyday outdoors flying the drones, sometimes in freezing temperatures or while standing in fields of two-inch-deep mud and cow excrement or, at other times, dealing with the Central Valley’s infamous 100-plus-degree heat.
It is while out in the private ranch lands in the Central Valley in California one day, that the employee, who is in his 50s, caved in and collapsed to the ground.
It is alledged that the employee either suffered from a heart attack or a grand mal seizure; the high temperatures in the Central Valley, coupled with a grueling work schedule of 10-12 hours a day and stress may have brought it on. The area is said to have been experiencing heat waves and warmer temperatures in recent times.
To make matters worse, after returning from a two-month medical leave, the employee was demoted and forced to return to the extreme working conditions on the field before ultimately being laid off almost a year after his collapse.
His previous requests for transfers were rejected due to his poor performance reviews that followed his medical leave, many of which were stating the employee “wasn’t a team player,” sources said, questioning how someone who almost gave their life on the job isn’t a team player.
The affected employee was also less likely to get another job in the field since his collapse jeopardized his flying license, the report reveals, without detailing what ultimately happened with the man in question.
If the report is accurate, it could be a sign of systemic issues within X, and perhaps across Silicon Valley at large.
This unfortunate revelation comes in the wake of another damaging exposé by a former Uber engineer who laid bare instances of sexual harassment within the company which were never addressed by the HR and the leadership since most of the perpetrators were uber’s “high performers”
This highlights the sort of problems that fast-growing tech firms seem to come up against but can’t deal with responsibly. But while Uber has been in trouble many times in the past, it’s rarer to hear about issues concerning employee welfare within a well-regarded firm like X.