Many major tech companies have long preferred to force employees to settle sexual harassment claims in private arbitration — a policy that shields firms from the embarrassing prospect of workers airing their grievances in open court, and also tends to result in lower-cost settlements. In the past, mandated arbitration has effectively silenced women speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment. But amid a rising tide of employee activism, some tech firms are publicly reconsidering their practices.
For Google, an impetus for its policy change to end forced arbitration was when thousands of employees around the world walked out of their offices to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims against senior executives. On Friday, Facebook followed Google’s move, mirroring two other tech giants, Microsoft and Uber, which had already committed to scrapping mandated arbitration.
BuzzFeed News reached out to a bevy of technology companies, asking if they would consider following Facebook and Google’s decisions to end forced arbitration. The question was simple: “Will your company, in all cases, end your policy of requiring employee sexual-harassment claims to be settled in private arbitration?”
Responses were mixed, though firms generally would not commit to ending forced arbitration; some asserted that their policies had never required arbitration in the first place. After BuzzFeed News got in touch, only three companies, Airbnb, eBay, and Square said they would end mandated arbitration. Tesla and Netflix told BuzzFeed News they would not comment on the issue. A handful did not respond to the inquiry or said they were reviewing their policies. And the rest told BuzzFeed News that forced arbitration had never been a company policy.
On Wednesday, Slack issued a statement to BuzzFeed News. While the company did not commit to stop requiring arbitration for sexual harassment claims, it said it was "undertaking a careful review" of its policies.
"We are currently undertaking a careful review of our policies related to sexual harassment claims and private arbitration," a Slack spokesperson said in an email. "We take this issue very seriously, and Slack is committed to creating an environment where our employees can thrive."
On Tuesday, Square told BuzzFeed News that the company is also ending private arbitration for sexual harassment claims.
A Square spokesperson confirmed via email that the company will not require arbitration of any harassment claim. The new policy would be "effective immediately," they said.
Here is a statement from Airbnb, issued exclusively to BuzzFeed News. Today, the company committed to not requiring its employees to use arbitration involving both sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
Today, we are announcing changes that reflect conversations we have had with employees and outside experts. We are a company who believes that in the 21st Century it is important to continually consider and reconsider the best ways to support our employees and strengthen our workplace. From the beginning, we have sought to build a culture of integrity and respect, and today’s changes are just one more step to drive belonging and integrity in our workplace.
We will not require our employees to use arbitration in cases involving discrimination in the workplace. Additionally, we will not require employees to use arbitration in cases involving sexual harassment. 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.
After BuzzFeed News reached out, eBay confirmed that it would end its policy of settling employee sexual harassment claims in private arbitration.
“eBay takes great pride in fostering an inclusive culture that allows employees to feel comfortable and encouraged to report any workplace issues,” an eBay spokesperson said. “We’ve adjusted our existing employee policy regarding sexual harassment claims to better reflect and encourage eBay’s values of being open, honest and direct.”
An Apple spokesperson also issued a statement to BuzzFeed News. The company said it ended its arbitration requirement earlier this year — but did not specify exactly when it did so.
We have never arbitrated a harassment or discrimination case. We reviewed our policies earlier this year and removed the arbitration requirement by offering new employees the choice of opting out.
The vast majority of our employees have never been asked to sign such an agreement — only those who joined Apple during a short period when this policy was in effect — and employees who did are no longer required to arbitrate this kind of claim.
We’re proud of the work we’re doing to ensure that everyone at Apple, wherever they work around the world, is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Our team is always evaluating Apple’s internal policies, procedures and support systems to make sure all employees are empowered to do their life’s best work.
Lyft said it has already changed its policy to reflect that the company would not require arbitration for claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
A company spokesperson pointed BuzzFeed News to its policy, which states, “Survivors can choose to resolve their claims through arbitration, through mediation, or in court.” The policy also says that Lyft made this change on May 15, 2018.
Pinterest said the company has never required arbitration for harassment claims.
“We have long been committed to building an inclusive company where employees are treated fairly. Our employment agreements have never included an arbitration provision for harassment claims,” said a Pinterest spokesperson.
Similarly, Reddit said it never had the policy of forced arbitration for employees.
“We don’t have arbitration so your question doesn’t apply to us,” said company spokesperson Anna Soellner.
Oath — the parent company of Yahoo, Tumblr, AOL, and HuffPost — said the same.
“Oath’s employment agreements have never required mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims,” a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
As did Twitter.
"We do not have forced arbitration at Twitter and never have," said a company spokesperson.
But BuzzFeed News obtained a court filing in which a human resources employee at Twitter acknowledged that "Twitter provides an Arbitration Agreement to each new hire as an attachment to his/her offer letter." The agreement does include an option to opt-out. But Ramsey Hanafi, a workplace lawyer at Quintana Hanaf, called Twitter's statement "disingenuous."
"If a company has an opt-out, then it can say with a straight face, even if it is disingenuous, ‘Oh, they had a choice to opt out, but they didn’t,’" Hanafi said. "Usually the way an arbitration agreement is presented to an employee is they either sign it, and agree to it, or don’t sign it," he said. "But when you get a job, you usually get handed a stack of papers, and people are just happy to get a new job — they just sign it all."
According to the court filing, Twitter employees can submit an opt-out form to the company's HR department only within 30 days of receiving the arbitration agreement.
Salesforce also said it "doesn't have mandatory arbitration agreements."
"For employees who have arbitration as part of their employment agreements we would not enforce them in any potential cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault," the company said in a statement. "We believe the choice should be the individual's."
Amazon, Intel, and IBM said they also do not use mandatory arbitration. Meanwhile, Snap, Spotify, and Palantir did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ question.
Two companies — Netflix and Tesla — declined to answer.
After being contacted, Netflix and Tesla declined to comment on the question.
This story has been updated to note more context around Twitter's response.
This story has been updated with a new response from Salesforce.
This story has been updated with a new response from Slack.
This story has been updated with a new response from Square about its plans to end arbitration for sexual harassment claims.
This story has been updated with Twitter's on-record comment. Earlier, the company had declined to answer BuzzFeed News' question.
This story has been updated with responses from Amazon and Netflix.
Davey Alba is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. While working for BuzzFeed News, she won the 2019 Livingston Award for international reporting.
Contact Davey Alba at email@example.com.
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O'Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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