Google still claims that “Don’t Be Evil” as one of the core principles in its “Code of Conduct.”  Those words came to mind when I saw a story claiming that Google has been using contract workers to skirt federal layoff reporting requirements and to goose its stock price.


“Google reports to the SEC that it has 20,123 employees but in reality it has 30,000” counting contractors who don’t receive benefits, the story said. By firing the contractors rather than full-timers, the piece claimed, Google didn’t have to report the layoffs to the Securities and Exchange Commission and thus avoided a possible hit to its stock price. Finally, the story said, by counting only full-timers Google has overstated its revenue per employee, further serving to boost its stock.


Other stories were calmer, pointing out that the use of contract employees is perfectly legal and that Google has hinted at layoffs of contractors for some time. Fair enough. But with the economy quaking from years of fancy accounting tricks on Wall Street, the last thing Google, or any company, wants to be associated with is any hint of cooking the books.


As the economy worsens, PR professionals will be advising their clients how to "spin" bad news like layoffs. My advice is to go overboard in providing complete, clear information as soon as you have it, no matter how bleak. Make sure you break out which layoffs and losses or extraordinary charges you announced earlier, and which numbers go into the grand totals you’re announcing now. Make sure you explicitly break out important distinctions like full-time vs. contract workers, and special one-time charges versus operating results. Don’t give the bloggers and commentators – some of whom may have only limited financial expertise –a chance to trash your good name.


Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

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