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Google ends forced arbitration for sexual harassment complaints

After an employee protest that spanned the world, one of the tech industry’s biggest employers — Google — changed its policy regarding sexual harassment complaints from employees.

Here’s why this is so important:

Forced arbitration policies are often used to keep employee sexual harassment complaints out of court — and out of the public eye. Some companies impose the policies on employees as a condition of their employment.

A policy that requires employees to agree to private arbitration on sexual harassment isn’t designed, in theory, to put employees at a disadvantage. It’s generally focused around protecting the company’s reputation and the idea that “what’s good for the company is good for the employee.”

However, forced arbitration policies can end up having some seriously negative effects. Obliging employees to go to forced arbitration instead of suing means that perpetrators of sexual harassment can sometimes avoid real consequences. If that happens, workplace abuses may continue and harassers thrive — while the number of victims rises.

Plus, the process of arbitration can be unfair in practice. Many employees who go through forced arbitration with an employer end up feeling like the case was decided against them before it even started thanks to internal networks and social contacts that often support the abuser. Arbitrators are supposed to be neutral, but biases may creep in — especially if a company is a repeat customer that provides a steady paycheck.

Now that Google has committed to a new era of transparency for its employees and accountability for the perpetrators of sexual harassment, other major national companies are following suit. Facebook, Airbnb and eBay have each made announcements about plans to drop forced arbitration policies for their own employees.

Staying silent about sexual harassment in the workplace is never the answer. If you’ve been victimized, take steps to find out more about your rights and protections under the law.

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