California-based social media giant Facebook announced on Nov. 9 that it is revising its workplace policy and will no longer require employees who make allegations of sexual harassment to settle their claims in private arbitration. Facebook is the second major Silicon Valley employer to make such an announcement in recent days. Alphabet Inc., which is the parent company of Google and many of its former subsidiaries, was the first technology giant to change its sexual harassment policies following a series of worker protests.
Thousands of Google workers in California, Texas, and New York, as well as in countries including Japan and the United Kingdom, walked away from their desks on Nov. 1 after learning that a developer working on the company’s Android platform had been paid $90 million despite being mired in a sexual misconduct scandal. A list of six demands handed to Google executives by the protesting workers included a call for the end of forced arbitration.
The Facebook announcement is the latest evidence that the balance of power in Silicon Valley may be tipping in favor of workers, and it contradicts the position the company was taking just a few months ago when a senior executive referred to forced arbitration as appropriate. Under Facebook’s revised policy, workers alleging sexual harassment, discrimination or misconduct may still pursue arbitration if they choose to.
Employers generally favor arbitration because the proceedings are private, but attorneys with experience litigating employee rights cases may prefer to settle these matters in court or at the negotiating table. This is because employers may be more willing to work toward an amicable settlement when facing the prospect of a public and costly court battle. Resolving sexual harassment or discrimination claims discretely ensures that victims are fairly compensated and allows employers to put potentially embarrassing matters behind them without jeopardizing their corporate reputations.