In California there are few tools which work to protect the employer, and California employers may have just lost another one. On October 10, 2019, Governor Gavin Newson signed into law AB 51, which bans the use of mandatory arbitration agreements in employment contracts.
More specifically, AB 51 adds Section 432.6 to the California Labor Code, making it unlawful to require a prospective employee, or current employee, to waive any right, forum, or procedure for a violation of any provision of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”)(Part 2.8 (commencing with Section 12900) of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code) or the California Labor Code, starting January 1, 2020. Additionally, an employer is also prohibited from threatening, retaliating or discriminating against, or terminating any applicant or employee who may choose not to sign a voluntary arbitration agreement.
Previously, an employer was able to require employees and prospective employees to agree to arbitration to resolve almost any and all disputes between the employee and the employer as a term of their employment. These terms were often the bulk of employers’ written contracts. Employers could have employees waive the right to a jury trial, the right to court costs, and other expenses, provided that the employer paid for the expenses of the alternative dispute resolution. The injured employees right to recover attorney’s fees was always a non-waivable right under the Labor Code. There were only a few actions which could not be arbitrated, the most prominent exception being the right to seek recovery under the Private Attorney’s General Action (PAGA).