California legislature passed AB 3080 which prohibits employers from entering into arbitration agreements with employees and now is waiting for Governor Brown’s signature.  It is uncertain whether the Governor will sign the bill into law, as in 2015 the Governor vetoed AB 465 that contained a similar prohibition on arbitration agreements in the workplace.  This Friday’s Five covers five aspects of the bill that California employers need to understand:

1. Bill bars confidential agreements regarding harassment.

AB 3080, if passed, would add Section 432.4 to the Labor Code, which would:

…prohibit any applicant for employment, employee, or independent contractor from disclosing to any person an instance of sexual harassment that the employee or independent contractor suffers, witnesses, or discovers in the workplace or in the performance of the contract, or otherwise opposing any unlawful practice, or from exercising any right or obligation or participating in any investigation or proceeding with respect to unlawful harassment or discrimination.

There is some question about whether this language would prohibit employers from entering into settlement agreements with employees that require confidentiality of its terms.  This practice is prevalent in employment litigation, not only in harassment claims, but in all aspects of employment litigation, such as when settling wage claims.  One rational for keeping a settlement agreement confidential is to be able to settle a claim and stop litigation without admitting liability.  If the amount of settlements are known, it may be viewed as an admission by other third-parties, which could increase the amount of litigation filed against the employer.  The ability to keep settlements confidential aids in settling cases, and if employers cannot confidentially resolve claims it could lead to longer and harder fought litigation.

2. Prohibits arbitration agreements for wage and hour claims, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

The bill would also add Section 432.6 to the Labor Code, prohibiting employers from entering into arbitration agreements with employees.  The bill provides that “a person shall not…require any applicant for employment or any employee to waive any right, forum, or procedure for a violation of any provision of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act” or the Labor Code.  This would bar arbitration agreements for claims of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, in addition to barring arbitration agreements that cover wage and hour claims under the Labor Code.

3. Prohibits employers from taking any employment action against employees who refuse to enter into arbitration agreements.

The bill would make it illegal for an employer to:

…threaten, retaliate or discriminate against, or terminate any applicant for employment or any employee because of the refusal to consent to the waiver of any right, forum, or procedure for a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or [the Labor Code], including the right to file and pursue a civil action or a complaint with, or otherwise notify, any state agency, other public prosecutor, law enforcement agency, or any court or other governmental entity of any alleged violation.

4. Creates personal liability for violations.

The bill designates that “a person” shall not take the actions prohibited in the bill, opening the possibility for individual liability for anyone violating the requirements of the bill.

5. Likely legal challenges to AB 3080 if it is eventually signed into law.

In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, that employment arbitration agreements that bar class actions are enforceable.  The vote was 5 to 4 in upholding the use of arbitration agreements in the workplace.  If the bill is signed into law the by the Governor, it will likely be challenged on the grounds that is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.

Employers need to keep a close eye on this bill, and even if the bill is passed, there will likely be a lengthy legal challenge on its validity.  Employers should review whether arbitration agreements are appropriate for their workforce with counsel, and need to keep in contact with their attorneys regarding the use of confidentiality agreements and arbitration agreements in the workplace.