Googlers Say Company’s New Arbitration Policy isn’t Enough
After thousands of Google employees walked out of their work areas in protest of the company’s arbitration policies earlier this year, making the statement that ‘enough is enough,’ CEO Sundar Pichai responded with a company-wide letter announcing the popular tech company would no longer require forced arbitration for harassment and assault cases. Facebook, Airbnb, and eBay have since followed suit, making changes to their sexual harassment policies as well. Since the walkout, organizers at Google say they’ve heard from employees at over fifteen major tech companies about their experiences with forced arbitration.
Pichai’s announcement read: “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes. Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g. personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be up to you.”
“This change looks like a step in the right direction,” said James Finberg, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon, after the letter was distributed. He added, “Mandatory confidential arbitration can protect repeat sexual harassers, and result in more women becoming the victims of those harassers. Permitting women to file public lawsuits lets people in the company know about the bad behavior. Lawsuits, as opposed to individual arbitration proceedings, also permit women to band together, share resources, and bring about system change.”
Airbnb’s subsequent announcement said, “Today, we are announcing changes that reflect conversations we have had with employees and outside experts. We are a company who believes that in the 21st Century it is important to continually consider and reconsider the best ways to support our employees and strengthen our workplace.”
Yet, despite these changes, Google employees say the limited means by which arbitration is no longer forced isn’t enough. Forced arbitration clauses can prevent individuals from suing their employers, because they require that a mediator, usually company appointed, work with the parties to resolve any disputes outside of court. Part of the motivation for the Google campaign to end this practice comes from the desire to protect contract workers, who have not benefited from the initial changes to the same extent as full-time workers.
In a letter, a group calling themselves “Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration” is demanding Google broaden the new policy to include cases outside of those specified and bring everyone else in the industry on broad, too. “The other ‘changes’ they announced simply re-stated our current, ineffective practices or introduced extraneous measures that are irrelevant to bringing equity to the workplace,” the letter states, adding that the end of forced arbitration was only “partially met” and “U.S. employee contracts still have the arbitration waiver in effect. We have not heard of any plan to render these waivers null and void.” The letter concludes by stating, “We ask all our workers industry-wide to join our fight” and is signed by over thirty employees.
Even if forced arbitration effectively meets its demise in the tech industry, employees could still fear speaking out about their issues. Often, they are blacklisted, denied promotions, and treated unfairly after doing so. More attention has been on these issues as of late with the growing popularity of the #MeToo campaign.