Protect Your Employee Rights Before Entering into Arbitration
There’s a disturbing trend occurring with employee rights. Employees are signing away their rights to a court hearing in favor of arbitration, largely because they don’t understand the ramifications of doing so.
Have you signed away your employee rights? Here’s what that could mean:
What is Arbitration?
Before going into how this is happening, it’s important to discuss why arbitration benefits the employer, not the employee. Arbitration is meant to take the burden off of the courts and to keep litigation costs down. Many arbitration agreements even provide that the employer pays the cost of the arbitrator. Sounds like a good deal, right?
Well, not exactly.
In an arbitration, both sides present their claims to an arbitrator whose job is to issue a ruling much like a judge would. While the parties are supposed to have roughly equal bargaining power in a voluntary arbitration, this is seldom the case when an employer and employee square off over things like unpaid overtime.
The arbitrator is often paid by the employer and is generally not as sympathetic to an employee as the jury.
Arbitrations also limit the amount of information each side is allowed to present. Depositions and other discovery tools are limited so it may be harder to dig for the facts and support you need to build your case.
Since employers often have access to the documentation you need, but you do not, this can hurt the employee as well.
Finally, there is a very limited appeals process very different from what you would have in a traditional court case. The arbitrator’s ruling stands.
Have I Signed an Arbitration Agreement?
At first glance, when you’re applying for a job and told you have to sign the paperwork in order to be employed, signing over your employee rights to a day in court before a jury doesn’t seem like a big problem. As long as your case is being heard by someone, why does it matter if it’s a court or an arbitrator?
Arbitration documents can be presented as a stand-alone document or as part of a larger new employee packet. There are no laws requiring companies to call your attention to the agreement buried deep inside the new-hire forms, nor does it have to be a separate document. If employees are not careful they could sign it without understanding the ramifications of doing so. Admitting you didn’t read it will not nullify the document or your signature.
If you’re not sure whether you signed one or not, consult your employee handbook or hiring papers. If you’re still unclear talk to your HR rep.
How Do I Protect Myself?
Never sign a document without fully reading it, even in the case of a lengthy employee handbook. If you don’t understand what it means, ask your employer or seek legal counsel. Also, don’t sign anything stating you’ve read the page if you haven’t.
Can I Refuse to Sign?
If you’re a new employee, or if your employer introduces an arbitration clause and requests everyone signs it, you can refuse. However, an employer can rescind a job offer, or fire an at-will employee (as is the case in Florida) if you refuse to sign.
Refusing to sign could jeopardize your job so tread lightly. Some employers are willing to negotiate the terms but you won’t know unless you bring it up. This type of negotiation raises the red flag for many employers.
Have you signed your employee rights away? Do you need help understanding the arbitration process? Contact employment attorneys Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., today.