February 1, 2018 Category: Sexual Harassment
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are joining together to advocate for female workers across the country. Working together, Democratic and Republican officials have successfully introduced bills in both the House and Senate that would prohibit employers from using forced arbitration in certain situations. The shift away from forced arbitration is also gaining steam in California. State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher has introduced similar legislation to limit the times when forced arbitration can be used. If these bills are successful women will have more power to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace.
Onboarding Documents Contain Forced Arbitration Clauses
If you’ve started a new job in the past two decades you may have noticed that you have to review and sign a ton of papers before you can officially start working. Many of these forms are required for tax purposes and legal disclosures about benefits. Other forms are supplied at the discretion of the employer and advise you of your rights and obligations as an employee at that company. Most employers include forced arbitration clauses in these employment onboarding documents. When you agree to this provision you essentially give up your right to sue your employer for sexual harassment or discrimination.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution. The tool allows parties (i.e., you and your employer) to settle disputes outside of the court system. Instead of filing a personal injury claim or Fair Housing and Employment Act complaint with the state, you would be required to enter private arbitration. Arbitration is intended to allow parties to settle disputes quickly, cost-efficiently, and privately. However, many employers have abused the power of arbitration and force employees into lose-lose situations.
How Forced Arbitration Works
Imagine that you were sexually harassed by your California employer. Sexual harassment is a clear violation of the law. You may want to file a civil lawsuit against your employer or file a complaint with the state of California. However, when you were hired you (probably unknowingly) signed a piece of paper agreeing to settle all disputes in arbitration. Instead of taking care of the matter outside of the workplace, you’ll be forced to address your employer head-on.
When you file a complaint with your employer they will schedule an arbitration hearing. Arbitration is very similar to court. You and your employer will try your case before a third-party. This third party, also known as the arbitrator, evaluates the arguments and evidence to make a decision. The arbitrator’s decision is final and employees are often left without a way to appeal the decision. Arbitration works best when the arbitrator is a neutral third party. When employers force their employees to go through arbitration they have likely chosen an arbitrator who will rule in the employer’s favor.
Research finds that employees who are forced into arbitration “win less often and receive much lower damages.” If you are successful and recover compensation you’ll still be required to keep the details of the harassment to yourself. Arbitration is a private matter and participants can’t talk about what goes on. In fact, employees are prohibited from disclosing any details regarding the issue, complaint, and/or settlement. Forcing employees to use arbitration allows employers to silence employees and maintain a hostile work environment. Employees cannot speak about the harassment with each other, which prevents them from banding together.
Proposed Legislation Could Eliminate Forced Arbitration
The newly proposed legislation on both the federal and state levels would be a game changer for employees across the country. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace would truly have the opportunity to hold their employers accountable. Under the current system, employers are able to sidestep the protections offered to employees under the law. If these new laws pass, employers will no longer able to divert all of their sexual harassment cases to private arbitration hearings. This will empower victims of sexual harassment and dismantle hostile work environments.
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in California it is important to understand your legal options. Call the Briski Law Group today to schedule a free consultation with our sexual harassment attorneys. We will listen to your account of the harassment, review your employment documents, and answer the questions you have. Sexual harassment is a serious matter and should not be ignored. Call us today for help.