Google employees will no longer be prevented from taking part in class-action lawsuits or suing the company over matters such as wrongful termination and discrimination. The California-based company announced that it was relaxing its mandatory arbitration rules in a Feb. 21 press release. The move marks the second time the it has relaxed its rules regarding workplace claims in recent months. In November, Google waived its mandatory arbitration requirement for assault and sexual harassment claims after 20,000 of its employees walked out in protest.
Employers prefer arbitration because it does not involve an unpredictable jury, is less expensive than litigation and allows them to keep potentially embarrassing allegations private. The protesting workers questioned the impartiality of arbitrators paid for by Google and claimed that the secrecy shrouding the process encouraged and enabled abusive managers and sexual harassers. They walked out after learning that a senior executive accused of sexual harassment had been offered a $90 million exit package by the company.
The Google dispute over mandatory mediation is part of a wider push by workers' rights groups to end the practice. Technology companies have been criticized sharply in recent months over issues ranging from censorship to data protection. Some observers believe Google may be acting to avoid additional scrutiny from Congress as its announcement comes just days before lawmakers in both the Senate and the House plan to introduce bills that would prohibit mandatory arbitration.
Attorneys with experience in employment discrimination cases may support legislative efforts to abolish mandatory arbitration. However, they could urge workers bound by such provisions who are being treated unfairly to pursue whatever legal remedies they have. Attorneys could advocate on behalf of workers during arbitration sessions or help them to gather the kind of evidence that arbitrators look for.
Source: Wired, "Google Ends Forced Arbitration After Employee Protest", Nitasha Tiku, Feb. 21, 2019