In early October, a New Jersey state appeals court reopened a dispute against a large cybersecurity company. The plaintiff alleged that after objecting to the sexual harassment and gender discrimination she was experiencing in the workplace, she was retaliated against and then fired.
Although the she had previously signed an arbitration agreement, the plaintiff claimed she was not made aware that signing the document waived her rights to pursue further litigation.
An arbitration agreement is a written contract in which parties agree to settle a dispute outside of court. The findings in the above case revealed that the document had failed to mention the waiver of the plaintiff’s rights, and according to previous standards set for by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the failure to do so deems this agreement void.
Arbitration Agreements in Employment
Starting a new job can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. In fact, new hires are often so consumed with the ins and outs of their new responsibilities, they fail to thoroughly read through the stack of employment forms the employer asked them to sign. When this happens, an employee can easily and unknowingly sign an arbitration agreement.
Additionally, many people think that workplace harassment would never happen to them. Even if they are aware of what an arbitration agreement is, they may feel it would never be applicable to their situation, and therefore willingly sign the document.
Yet employers are increasingly asking their employees to sign arbitration agreements. This means that workers are essentially giving up their rights to sue over serious workplace issues such as:
Gender and racial discrimination
Breach of contract
One benefit of signing an arbitration agreement is that, if a dispute does occur, a settlement could be reached more quickly than a lengthy court case.
However, arbitration settlements are decided by an arbitrator instead of a jury. Once the arbitrator makes a decision, the settlement is final and cannot be appealed.
Can I Refuse to Sign?
Employees who have read the arbitration agreement and agree to its terms can sign the agreement without an issue. However, those that do not agree with the terms should not sign the document without talking to their employer first.
Although it is possible that a flat-out refusal to sign could jeopardize employment, employees can try to negotiate to make the agreement more amenable.
Here are a few important things to discuss with an employer:
Damages: Arbitration agreements should allow for the same compensation that could be awarded in court.
Costs: The employer should be responsible for costs associated with arbitration.
Selection of Arbitrator: Employees should have equal say when selecting the arbitrator.
Rights to an Attorney: Employees should have the right to be represented by a lawyer during arbitration.