As of November 8th, employees at Google can sue the tech giant over sexual harassment. The company has decided to get rid of their arbitration clause when there has been a case of sexual harassment. This comes after a worldwide walkout that was organized by outraged employees protesting the company’s way of handling these cases.
Facebook decided to follow Google on the 9th with Airbnb and eBay close behind. Sexual harassment is a pressing issue within tech companies. In their fast-paced and competitive environment, those accused are often just moved to another position, rather than being forced disciplined or fired.
While this is a step in the right direction, this only covers sexual harassment. Mandatory arbitration is still the only course of action available in other situations such as discrimination, wage issues, and other forms of harassment. Some states have already begun drafting legislation to prevent forced arbitration, but again, they are mainly focusing on sexual harassment.
In the light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that favored individual arbitration over potential class-action lawsuits to resolve collective disputes, many are weighing their options and considering the implementation of mandatory arbitration.
The practice has been increasingly criticized since the #MeToo movement went viral. Arbitration creates an advantage for the companies, allowing for certain criteria and limits to be placed. During the hiring process, employees end up signing an agreement waiving their right to take the company to court, often unknowingly, as the contracts sometimes get lost inside a pile of paperwork.
Without the option of resorting to the judicial system, employees tend to accept whatever deal is offered them. Arbitration allows employers to avoid public scrutiny, and to control much of the proceedings when dealing with these disputes. It is also more likely for employers to win, or pay much less for damages if the employee wins.
Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and eBay are the companies that have most recently gotten rid of forced arbitration clauses. In fact, businesses all over the country have been moving away from arbitration since December of 2017. All the U.S. Attorney Generals have come together to urge Congress to pass a bill on the matter, but while many have been introduced, none of them have made it through.
The discussion over mandatory arbitration is a healthy one. When it comes to sexual harassment, in particular, the outlook for victims is much brighter today than a few years ago, when arbitration clauses became the norm at large corporations.
It is possible that the top tech companies have decided to allow employees to sue them in cases of sexual harassment simply to avoid negative publicity, but the fact remains that this is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, more companies will follow.
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