Facebook is scrapping forced arbitration for sexual harassment cases

12 Nov 2018

Open plan office space at Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, California. Image: Facebook

Facebook is the latest company to change its rules in the face of widespread criticism.

Facebook is following Google and Uber by ending forced arbitration for allegations of sexual harassment. This means that Facebook staff members can now take sexual harassment complaints directly to a court of law and request a jury trial. Previously, staff members would have had to settle claims privately, in a method critics have said makes it easier for large companies to hide systemic issues from the wider public.

On Friday (9 November), Facebook announced it would no longer be forcing employee complaints into arbitration, just a day after Google revealed it would do the same. Google’s announcement was particularly notable, as it came on the crest of a wave of complaints and global walkouts in the days previous.

Ending forced arbitration was just one of several demands made by protesting Google staff, and negotiations around the others are ongoing. Last year, Microsoft changed its arbitration policy, while Uber’s was altered six months ago.

Harassment claims taken seriously

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “Today [9 November], we are publishing our updated workplace relationships policy and amending our arbitration agreements to make arbitration a choice rather than a requirement in sexual harassment claims.

“Sexual harassment is something that we take very seriously and there is no place for it at Facebook.”

Vice-president of people at Facebook, Lori Goler, told The Wall Street Journal that the company wants to “be part of taking the next step” at a “pivotal moment” in the tech industry.

The company also announced that executives are now required to disclose any romantic relationship with another employee, even if they are not directly overseeing the employee’s work. Facebook had previously defended its forced arbitration policy earlier in 2018, dubbing it “official and appropriate”.

Opening the floodgates

Some legal experts believe that now tech firms have removed mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment complaints, there is room for people to fight for its removal in other disputes that may arise in these companies.

Google Walkout for Real Change, the employee group behind the recent global protests, said: “It’s inspiring to see the effects of #GoogleWalkout spread past our company.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects