Google eliminating controversial forced arbitration practice

Policy change will become effective March 21

By SARA ASHLEY O'BRIEN, CNN BUSINESS
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

(CNN) - Google is eliminating its controversial practice of forced arbitration for employees.

The company confirmed to CNN Business that it will no longer require current or future employees to handle complaints against the company through an arbitration forum, instead of going to court. The policy change will become effective on March 21 and will apply to all employees around the world.

Forcing workers into arbitration over workplace misconduct and other claims is an employment practice that's been gaining more attention in the Me Too era. The agreements, which are often signed as a condition of employment, make it so an employee can't sue the company or participate in class action lawsuits against it. Complaints are instead brought through arbitration, a sort of alternative legal system, with the company.

Critics of the agreements argue they help companies keep issues ranging from sexual violence to racial and age discrimination quiet.

The news follows a November announcement that Google would no longer force employees with sexual assault or harassment claims into arbitration. Other companies like Uber, Lyft and Facebook have similarly gotten rid of the practice for sexual assault and harassment claims.

The initial policy update did not apply to all discrimination claims as the new one does.

Axios was first to report the news of the policy change on Thursday.

The elimination of forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases is one of several sweeping changes Google employees called for with coordinated protests at Google offices around the globe on November 1 over the company's handling of sexual harassment.

The demonstrations, dubbed the Google Walkout, came in the wake of a New York Times investigation that detailed years of sexual harassment allegations, multimillion-dollar severance packages for accused executives, and a lack of transparency over the cases.

After news of the policy change, the official Twitter account for the Google Walkout organizers praised the company's progress, saying it "still just the beginning."

Google said the new policy will not apply to disputes with former employees, or those with previously settled claims. The company said it will notify suppliers with whom it contracts workers so they can make decisions about implementing similar policies.

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