In November 2018, tens of thousands of Google employees around the world walked out in protest over the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims, among other grievances.
It was reported that the protests were largely led by women, and protesters carried signs with slogans like “I reported and he got promoted,” Worker’s Rights are Women’s Rights,” and “Time’s Up, Tech.”
The protesters raised multiple demands, including pay transparency to help ensure minorities and females aren’t underpaid relative to white males.
One major procedural demand was to eliminate forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual abuse claims.
Arbitration in employment law is a controversial subject. We’ll explain arbitration in more detail in a follow-up post, but at a very high level, it requires employees with grievances against their companies to resolve disputes with an arbitrator as opposed to resolving them in a traditional court setting. The proceedings aren’t public, and there is no right to appeal.
Companies argue that forced arbitration is less expensive for all parties, while employees and employee advocates say it gives the companies requiring the arbitration a distinct advantage in the outcome.
Google fairly quickly acquiesced to the demand from employees to end forced arbitration in sexual assault and harassment cases, meeting one of the primary demands of the protesters. But recently, the company ended forced arbitration for all current and former employees. The company is making an exception for any settled claims, which it says it will not reopen.
It will be interesting to see how other large companies react. As one expert points out: “Following the massive, 20,000-person walkout at Google in November, Google got rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. Airbnb, eBay and Facebook quickly followed suit. Despite some progress across the industry, the end of forced arbitration across all workplace disputes is not widespread.”