03/20/2014 12:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Workers' Rights in 1014 Silicon Valley

Did you know that workers' rights in Silicon Valley now mirror those of the feudal system in medieval Europe? Here's how I discovered this awful truth.

I had found her -- the perfect keynote speaker for my Career Transition Conference. A successful woman, a leader who stepped out of the workforce for 12 years to raise children, an accomplished community volunteer, and a recent hire by one of Silicon Valley's hottest firms, now a successful employee sharing her personal, inspirational story. Other job seekers could follow her methodology. Her story was perfect...

...and then came the frightful call: "I can't speak at your event. My company won't let me."


"They won't let employees speak at public events, even if we don't mention the company's name and only discuss life prior to joining the company. I can't risk losing my job."


This company employs 43,000 people in the United States alone. Forty-three thousand employees -- a population two-thirds the size of the city in which it's located. How can every single employee be prohibited from speaking publicly about personal experiences?

On January 31, 2014, The New York Times wrote, "President Obama has persuaded some of the nation's largest companies, including Walmart, Apple, General Motors and Ford, to revise their hiring practices to avoid discriminating against applicants who have been out of work for a long time." Ironically, The New York Times can list this firm as one embracing President Obama's call to action; however, the firm's employees hired under this policy may not utter its name.

I tried to contact the firm's head of Human Resources. I didn't understand the problem; the keynote speaker's message fell in the self-evident, wholesome, "mom and apple pie" category, reflecting positively on her employer.


My phone messages and emails received no response. Perhaps the company's no speaking policy was extended to include telephones as well.

A March 1, 2014 headline in The New York Times read, "Engineers Allege Hiring Collusion in Silicon Valley." Several firms had mutually agreed not to hire engineers who had worked at other Silicon Valley firms, so engineers "...were prevented from being able to freely negotiate what their skills are worth ... the case involves 64,000 programmers."


Practices regulating workers' personal lives -- their freedom of speech and right to find work - smack of a fiefdom, where feudal lords determine workers' rights or the lack thereof. Is this the United States in 2014 or medieval Europe, 1014?

I'm a small business owner who hosts career conferences. I'm never going to win a battle with a company employing 43,000 U.S. workers.

I have purchased many of this company's products -- most of them repeatedly for a family of four, since 1988, back when almost no one else did. I was an early, unpaid evangelist at a time when the company encouraged people to speak publicly and positively about it.

Do Silicon Valley companies think different now?