This year, sexual harassment in the workplace has been a hot topic in the news, inciting animated discussion about the role companies are playing in preventing or fostering workplace harassment and whether or not companies are taking appropriate action when claims of harassment are made by employees. In some of the instances where women have brought claims of harassment against high-profile men in politics, media, and entertainment, the women were required to sign agreements with their employers to keep work-related legal claims in arbitration.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation that would ban pre-dispute arbitration agreements of sexual misconduct claims. The bipartisan bills would allow those who allege sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the workplace to take their claims to court rather than mandatory arbitration, even if the employee had previously signed an arbitration agreement.
When the bills were introduced, lawmakers stated that they believe mandatory arbitration agreements in the context of sexual harassment and gender discrimination have effectively silenced victims and enabled serial harassers. Although these bills have a long way to go before they become law, it is likely that these bills will pass in some form due to the uncommon bipartisan efforts and pressure exerted through both traditional and social media. Additionally, companies, such as the tech-giant Microsoft, have supported the proposed legislation by immediately banning their use of mandatory arbitration in harassment cases. It is likely that this trend will continue irrespective of the outcome of the current bills.
You can read the U.S. Senate version of the bill here, and the U.S. House of Representatives version of the bill, here. For more information regarding arbitration agreements in the workplace related to sexual harassment claims, read our previous post, here.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
If these bills are passed, they will affect many companies’ existing arbitration agreements and will mandate change in how cases of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination are handled. We will continue to monitor these bills’ progress and will provide relevant updates as they move forward.
With the New Year upon us, as a quick reminder, statutorily-required sexual harassment training has been expanded. Employers with 50 or more employees are now required to include discussion of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in their mandatory sexual harassment training. Additionally, farm labor contractors are now required to provide sexual harassment training for agricultural employees in the language understood by those agricultural employees. For more information regarding these two new laws and all other laws effective January 1, 2018, see our post here.