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By: Hassan Aburish
In late 2017, the “Me Too” movement ignited after actress Ashley Judd publicly accused media mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Since then, the movement has led to vast changes in the workplace. Numerous industry leaders have fallen from grace. States are quickly passing legislation to attempt to curb sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, and allegations of sexual harassment continue to rise. However, as Google employees proved last month, compliance with the law cannot be an employer’s only consideration.
When Andy Rubin stepped down from his executive role at Google in October of 2014, it appeared to be an amicable parting of ways. But three years later, a New York Times article revealed that Andy Rubin was forced to resign following a “credible” allegation of sexual harassment. The NYT also disclosed that Google gave Rubin an exit package worth approximately $90 million dollars, which was not required under his contract. Within days of learning this information, hundreds of Google employees staged a walk-out to protest their employer’s handling of alleged sexual misconduct.
In response to employee demands, Google CEO Sundar Pichai agreed not to enforce mandatory arbitration agreements with regard to claims of sexual harassment and assault. However, following their victory, Google employees began pushing for the arbitration clauses to be nixed entirely. On February 21, Google announced the end of its policy of forced arbitration and class action waivers for its employees.
There are many lessons we can learn from Google’s experience. First, never assume that resolution of a dispute will remain confidential. One of the most embarrassing aspects of this situation for Google—and what appears to have been the source of much employee infuriation—was the fact that Google could have terminated Rubin without paying him $90 million for allegations an internal investigation concluded to be credible.
Second, employers must weigh all costs and benefits of their policies regarding employees. While employers typically can require employees who have signed arbitration agreements to pursue their claims within the arbitration context, employers should also assess other factors in deciding how they handle the use of arbitration agreements with their workforce.
Third, sexual harassment continues to be a front-page issue. From giant tech companies to family-owned restaurants, allegations of sexual harassment are likely to make it into the news. So it is now more important than ever to ensure that employers get ahead of these issues by holding consistent harassment training, updating employee policies and manuals, and quickly and appropriately handling employee complaints.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Hassan Aburish at [email protected].