Google Ends Forced Arbitration for Employees and (Direct) Contractors

Near the end of 2018, a small group of Google employees asked their company to end forced arbitration for good. That demand came on the heels of a massive employee walkout to protest corporate inequality and sexual harassment; “end forced arbitration” was also on the list of the protestors’ demands.

(For those unfamiliar with the term, forced arbitration requires victims and accusers to settle disputes behind closed doors, with a binding judgment delivered by a third-party arbiter. Civil suits are subject to forced arbitration, whereas criminal cases are not. For many large companies, a quiet settlement will always beat a long, messy trial—but many employees want their day in court.)

That protest seemed to have worked, with Google announcing it will no longer require forced arbitration in disputes with current and future employees. Starting March 21, Google employees will have the ability to sue the company over an issue (although they can still resort to arbitration if they feel so inclined). In addition, this new rule will extend to contractors and temporary workers employed directly by Google—a key demand by many of the protestors.

However, Axios suggests the deal isn’t totally comprehensive: “[Google] will not require the firms that employ the contract and temporary workers to make a similar change, although those firms are being told about the shift in case they want to adopt the change.”

Following the Google employee protest late last year, a selection of large tech firms opted to end forced arbitration, including Facebook, Airbnb, and eBay. “We’re proud that these changes will allow employees to choose how to resolve their concerns and believe this is the right thing to do for our employee community,” Airbnb wrote in a statement in November 2018.

Tech pros overwhelmingly want an end for forced arbitration, as well. Blind, which conducts anonymous surveys of the tech industry, once surveyed its community about ending forced arbitration provisions in employee contracts. Around 71.49 percent of respondents thought that such provisions should end, and only 28.51 percent believed they should remain.

The big question now is whether Google’s move will accelerate the decline in forced-arbitration clauses throughout the tech industry as a whole. Although employees clearly hate the practice, it’s obvious that many companies still find it useful, so you can expect it will never disappear entirely unless it’s banned.