On Oct. 30th, 2018, House Democrats introduced the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, a bill intended to protect the rights of millions of US workers to access the court system. The Act would ban companies from requiring workers to sign arbitration clauses and would impact millions of workers across the nation.
The policy of requiring that employees and applicants sign arbitration agreements is now common practice. In fact, most sign one before they are ever officially hired. By signing the arbitration agreement, workers are essentially waiving their right to sue the company for potential violations of labor law (i.e. sexual harassment, racial discrimination, age discrimination, wage theft, wrongful termination, etc.) According to the terms of an arbitration agreement, employees with legal claims would need to take those claims to private arbitration; a forum without a judge or jury and with almost no government oversight. A fairly secretive process, private arbitration means that workers are significantly less likely to win their cases. If they do prevail in their case, they generally receive far lower settlements than if the case had been handled in the court system.
The new bill is fairly simple – employers would not be allowed to require that workers sign arbitration agreements and would also be prohibited from retaliating against anyone who chooses not to sign. It would be illegal to require employees to waive their right to join a class action lawsuit or file legal claims in arbitration as a group or class.
Supporters of the bill see it as a great stride in the right direction as forced arbitration is stripping American workers of their day in court; their chance to hold employers responsible for employment law violations (i.e. wage theft, overtime violations, discrimination, workplace retaliation, wrongful termination, harassment, etc.)
To make it through both chambers of Congress, the bill would need bipartisan support, but supporters do not expect Republican leaders to show much interest as they haven’t been interested in other legislation aimed at limiting mandatory arbitration in the past. Whether the bill is passed or not, controversy over mandatory arbitration agreements continues to escalate.
If you have questions about mandatory arbitration agreements or how to join a class action lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.