By Kevin Kelleher
November 10, 2018

Facebook became the second tech-giant in so many days on Friday to end a company policy that required sexual-harassment claims to be handled in private arbitration, the Wall Street Journal reported. On Thursday, Google announced a similar change, clearing the way for such claims to be pursued in open court.

Facebook notified employees of the change in an internal post to staff, the Journal said. Google changed its own policy after thousands of its workers staged a worldwide walkout in protest of the company’s handling of sexual-harassment claims.

In recent years, companies have asked employees to sign an agreements mandating that employment-related claims be handled by private arbitration panels rather than public courts. A 2017 study by Cornell University found that the number of private-sector employees facing such mandatory-arbitration clauses has more than doubled since the early 2000s. While companies say arbitration can lower legal costs, some employees and labor activists say they can be too restrictive.

Last week, Google employees in 50 cities staged a mass walkout after reports that some Google executives received big payouts after being accused of sexual harassment. Among the Google workers’ demands was an end to forced-arbitration of sexual-harassment claims. In response, Google made arbitration optional for such claims, while pledging to provide more information on sexual-harassment investigations and to improve training on the issue.

While Facebook faced no such walkout by its workers, it chose to revise its arbitration policy. A spokesman for Facebook told the Journal that the changes put the policy “in line with the expectations of tech workers,” and that sexual harassment has been a frequent topic inside the company.

“Last year, we published our harassment policy because we believe that the more companies are open about their policies, the more we can all learn from one another,” Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison said in a statement. “Today, 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.”

Facebook also updated its policy on interoffice dating. While employees can date co-workers, the new policy will require senior executives to disclose any dating relationships, even those outside their direct lines of reporting.

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