Microsoft is changing how it addresses allegations of sexual harassment, eliminating forced arbitration agreements that required employees to resolve such claims out of court—and out of the public eye.
The tech giant is also throwing its weight behind a proposed federal law that would ban such agreements, a move it hopes other technology companies will follow.
“The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, told The New York Times.
As the #MeToo movement spreads and several prominent executives and celebrities are accused of harassment, both corporations and the government are rethinking how they approach new claims moving forward. Microsoft is one of the first companies to end these sorts of legal agreements, which detractors say have been an effective in shielding harassment claims, allowing some serial harassers to continue the practice for years.
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It’s a welcome move, but largely a symbolic one. The Times reports that Microsoft has only a few hundred employees—out of its staff of 125,000—that would have been forced to arbitrate in case of harassment. But the company says the policy shift will benefit all employees in the long run, as harassers, particularly those with several claims against them, will be outed—and won’t advance in the company.
In early December, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), proposed legislation making these sorts of forced arbitration cases unenforceable
“When a company has a forced arbitration policy, it means that if a worker is sexually harassed or sexually assaulted in the workplace, they are not allowed to go to court over it; instead, they have to go into a secret meeting with their employer and try to work out some kind of deal that really only protects the predator,” said Gillibrand. “They are forbidden from talking about what happened, and then they are expected to keep doing their job as if nothing happened to them. No worker should have to put up with such an unfair system.”