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 for a firm. Such clauses effectively silenced women speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment. But amid a rising tide of employee activism, some tech companies are publicly reconsidering their practices.
For Google, an impetus for the policy change was when thousands of its 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 leaned towards ending forced arbitration or asserting that their policies had never required arbitration in the first place. After BuzzFeed News got in touch, only two companies, Airbnb and eBay, said they would end mandated arbitration. But Tesla and Slack told BuzzFeed News they would not comment on the issue. The rest told BuzzFeed News that forced arbitration had never been a company policy.
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.
Intel and IBM said they also do not use mandatory arbitration. Meanwhile, Snap, Spotify, Netflix, and Salesforce, did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ question.
Two companies, Tesla and Slack, declined to answer.
“Slack is not commenting on the issue at this time,” said a Slack spokesperson. After being contacted, Tesla declined to comment.
This story has been updated with Twitter’s on-record comment. Earlier, the company had declined to answer BuzzFeed News’ question.