Google to allow employees to sue over discrimination, harassment

Google on Thursday said that it will soon allow its employees to sue the company over discrimination and harassment claims, a policy change that comes after a campaign by its workers. 

The tech giant confirmed to The Hill that it will end its "mandatory arbitration" policy on March 21, meaning Google employees will no longer be forced to resolve discrimination and harassment complaints through arbitration. The change will apply to Google's full-time employees, but it is less clear how the policy will apply to its temporary workers, contractors and vendors. 

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Critics say arbitration, a method of dealing with disputes outside the courts, favors employers because it prevents workers from taking their issues before a judge or jury. Many Silicon Valley employment contracts including arbitration clauses.  

Google ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims last year following a worldwide walkout by 20,000 employees over the company's handling of sexual abuse. A group of workers called Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration has continued to campaign against forced arbitration in all cases, saying tech workers should be allowed to bring all disputes to court. 

The group has particularly taken issue with the fact that the November policy change applied only to employees, tweeting last month that "temps, vendors and contractors deserve access to their civil rights, just like any full-time employee." 

Google said it will no longer include mandatory arbitration clauses from legal agreements with temporary and contract workers, but it cannot require the firms who employ those workers to make the same change. The company said it will tell those firms about the policy change and allow them to make their own decisions on arbitration. 

"We commend the company in taking this step so that all its workers can access their civil rights through public court," Googles for Ending Forced Arbitration said in a Medium post on Thursday. "We will officially celebrate when we see these changes reflected in our policy websites and/or employment agreements." 

The company said those Google employees whose claims have already been settled through arbitration will not be able to bring lawsuits now. Any employees who are currently engaged in an arbitration process will have the option to sue starting March 21.  

Google pointed out that many firms are currently grappling with this issue, citing Netflix, Salesforce and Verizon as examples of other tech companies that still require mandatory arbitration. 

Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration said that representatives with the group will stand with members of the House and Senate as they introduce "multiple bills that end the practice of forced arbitration across all employers." 

"We’re calling on Congress to make this a law to protect everyone," the group said. It did not specify which lawmakers, but the group has previously praised the Arbitration Fairness Act, which Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced in the previous Congress, and the Restoring Justice for Workers Act introduced by House Democrats led by Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement Top Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing Barr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday MORE (D-N.Y.) last year. 

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union —Dem wants more changes to Pelosi drug pricing bill | Ebola outbreak wanes, but funding lags | Johnson & Johnson recalls batch of baby powder after asbestos traces found Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors Warren faces tougher sell with 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Wash.) also hailed news of the change Thursday.

Arbitration agreements require workers to give up their right to sue their employers over any complaint, including allegations of sexual harassment or racial discrimination in the workplace. Employees are less likely to receive money in arbitration cases than they would in court, critics say.

"Today was a good day," the activist group wrote. "Now keep going." 

Updated at 5:35 p.m.