One of the interesting strains to come out of the new round of publicity surrounding sexual harassment is a renewed focus on mandatory arbitration provisions.
And it comes from an unexpected source: former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson.
Indeed, Carlson recently gave an interview with former ESPN producer and self-titled “Commander-in-She” Valerie Gordon that may have slipped under radar in which she talks about such provisions.
She notes that mandatory or “forced” arbitration provisions enable sexual harassment to exist under the radar.
I’m doing some advocacy work on Capitol Hill, working on gathering bipartisan support to take the secrecy out of arbitration. You know the forced arbitration in employment contracts makes these things secret. We have to stop the silence around it.
In another recent interview, Carlson suggested that these arbitration provisions are often “in the fine print” and not focused on when people start a new job. She’s talked about it during Senate press conferences this year as well.
I’ll be interested in reading more about Carlson’s perspective in her new book being released today.
Carlson’s message should be well taken by employers; if employers are using these arbitration provisions merely as a means to allow a system of harassment to continue, then shame on them.
But here’s the issue: As with most things employment law related, it’s far more nuanced.
There are times when arbitration makes sense for BOTH the employer and employee. Litigation is expensive — very expensive, some of my clients would say — and is filled with uncertainty and time-consuming drama. I talked more about this in a 2014 post.
Arbitration can be less expensive and can allow both sides to be heard by a neutral third party much more quickly and effectively than a court system.
And yes, it avoids some publicity but again, that can benefit employees too.
By filing in arbitration, rather than court, an employee’s claims won’t be public and won’t seen by future employers as a potential lawsuit waiting to happen.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to review this once more in a trio of consolidated cases, including whether employers can force employees to sign away rights to pursue a class actions.
And we shall see if the Connecticut General Assembly revisits the issue in the upcoming session in January 2018. Until then, employers should continue to monitor developments in this area and figure out if mandatory arbitration provisions are right for your business.