Thousands of employees at the search engine behemoth have protested what they see as lenient treatment of executives accused of sexual assaults.

The protest has been termed ‘Walkout For Real Change’ and has seen workers in Australia, Switzerland, Japan, Ireland, Singapore, the United Kingdom and multiple US locations walk out of their buildings.

Some chanted ‘Time is Up’ in reference to the Time’s Up movement and demanded an end to forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims.

An explosive article in The New York Times alleged entrepreneur Andy Rubin left Google after a sexual harassment claim against him

The issue came to a head after a report in The New York Times said the company had spent millions on severance packages for men accused of sexual misconduct. It further reported that many people within Google were incensed by a US$90 million payment to Andy Rubin which was made even after an internal investigation found sexual misconduct claims against him had merit.

In response, Google disclosed it had terminated 48 employees, including 13 senior staff, for sexual harassment in recent years.

A spokesperson for Andy Rubin said he was never informed of the sexual harassment claim made against him. On Twitter, Rubin said the article “contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations” about his severance package.

In an email to the newspaper, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company had introduced more robust policies around sexual harassment in 2015. It had required all presidents and vice-presidents to disclose any relationship with an employee.

Pichai described the story as “difficult to read” but did not directly address the allegations about Rubin.

Speaking at the DealBook conference in New York on 1 November, Pichai acknowledged it was a “difficult time” at Google. “There’s anger and frustration within the company,” he told journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

“We all feel it. I feel it, too. Google sets a very, very high bar, and, obviously, we didn’t live up to our expectations,” Pichai said.

Staff had quizzed CEO Sundar Pichai about Google’s plans to combat sexual harassment

At a meeting on 18 October, the question the most employees voted to ask company co-founder Larry Page and CEO Sundar Pichai concerned sexual harassment.

“Multiple company actions strongly indicate that protection of powerful abusers is literally and figuratively more valuable to the company than the well-being of their victims,” read the question.

“What concrete and meaningful actions will be taken to turn this around?”

Pichai had previously sent a memo to staff supporting the walkout and vowing that Google would do better.

“As CEO, it’s been very important to me, personally meaningful to me, that we draw a hard line on inappropriate behavior and we have done so for the past few years,” he wrote.