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Employers may not be able to force employees to sign arbitration agreements in 2015

By Thomas M Lee

A.B. 2617, proposed by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and signed by Governor Brown on Sept. 30, bars people from being forced to waive civil rights protections as a condition of entering into a contract for the provision of goods or services, including the right to file a civil action with the attorney general, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and any court or governmental entity.

The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2015, requires those seeking enforcement of a waiver of the protections, such as agreeing to arbitrate all claims arising out of their employment — including the right to be free from violence and discrimination based on one’s political affiliation or because of one’s sex, race or religion — to prove that the agreement to arbitrate was knowing and voluntary.

The bill makes preliminary language and findings that all persons should have the full benefit of the rights, penalties, remedies, forums and procedures established by civil rights acts and shouldn’t be deprived of those through involuntary and coerced waivers. Enployees will soon no longer be forced to waive their right to court to enforce those protections, and that means they can’t be forced to arbitration.

While it isn’t strictly an employment bill, it could be a significant development in the law because its arguments could work in the employment context as well. If forced waivers are bad for civil rights law, they should be equally bad for employment claims.

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