Be Aware of What You Sign at Work
Updated: Oct 9
We've all been there: You applied, you interviewed, and you finally got the job that you've been hoping for. You show up on your first day, meet your coworkers, train, and do some onboarding. You're given stack of papers to sign. Tax forms, direct deposit forms, insurance information, policies . . . etc etc. It all seems perfectly normal and harmless. Plus, we wouldn't dare do anything to jeopardize our new job. So we don't think twice and just sign.
But you just might be unknowingly signing away important rights. Employers are increasingly relying on various agreements to help protect themselves in case they are later accused of breaking the law. For example, employers often have you sign a legal contract called an arbitration agreement. It's might be contained in stack of other documents. Sometimes it is just a paragraph or two contained in an employee handbook, to which you could become bound when you sign to acknowledge receipt.
Arbitration is an alternative to court. Unlike a court of law, however, there is no judge or jury at arbitration. Plaintiff's attorneys generally disfavor arbitration for that reason. Juries are made up of our peers. If you have subjected to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation at your job, a juror might easily be able to put themselves in your shoes. They may have experienced similar workplace discrimination themselves. Or they may have friends and family who have dealt with employment discrimination at their job. They might intimately understand how devastating it feels to be treated unfairly at work. This is a risk that many employers simply do not want to take. So they ask their employees to agree to go to arbitration to resolve any disputes that may arise during the course of employment. True enough, in some circumstances, arbitration may offer some benefits to employees. Arbitration may be faster or less expensive than going to court. But all things considered, arbitration is generally better for employers than it is employees.
Employees who agree to arbitration are often not even aware of it. They just signed the papers whey were given. It is not just arbitration agreements either. Many employers ask that their employees agree to other conditions of employment, such as broad and restrictive non-compete agreements, which could make it very difficult for you to leave your job or to get another job if you do decide to leave. Or, if you resign or are fired, your employer may have you sign paperwork, which may even seem appealing, but you could be inadvertently waiving or releasing your right to later pursue legal claims against the employer. The point is, do not lightly sign away your rights. Be aware of what you are agreeing to when you sign papers that your employer gives you. If you are unsure of what you are being asked to sign, ask your employer. If you have any questions about arbitration agreements, noncompete agreements, waivers, releases, or severance agreements, please contact us and we'll be happy to evaluate your situation.