Arbitration agreement tips for PA employers from the 3rd Circuit

Early in my legal career, a colleague taught me the expression: pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered. Essentially, be agressive. But push too hard, and you may lose it all.

Some PA companies require their new hires to sign an agreement requiring them to arbitrate any claims that arise out of the employment relationship. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that agreements requiring employees to arbitrate employment-related claims are ok. However, in Pennsylvania (as in other states), when those agreements are too one-sided, courts deem them unconscionable and, therefore, unenforceable.

So remember, pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered. And thanks to a decision the Third Circuit Court of Appeals handed down yesterday, PA employers now have a better blueprint as to how to avoid unconscionable arbitration agreements. Details after the jump…

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After all, fair is fair.

The case is Quillon v. Tenet HealthSystem Philadelphia, Inc., a copy of which you can find here. I’ll skip the facts and get right to the tips:

  1. Attorney’s fees. Don’t try to limit an employee’s ability to recover attorney’s fees for claims under local, state, or federal laws that would otherwise include an award of reasonable attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff. Arbitration provisions requiring parties to be responsible for their own expenses, including attorney’s fees, are generally unconscionable.
  2. Class-action waivers are ok. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, it is ok to require employees to waive the right to pursue class-action claims in federal court.
  3. Running the clock.  It’s ok for the company to require the employee to complete a reasonable internal step process before initiating arbitration. For even if the employer were to drag its heels through the step process, the employee may move to compel arbitration.
  4. Shortening the clock. Time limitations in arbitration agreements are unconscionable if they are clearly unreasonable and unduly favorable to the employer. We’re talking egregious stuff, here, like a thirty-day window within which to file and preserve a complaint. 

Most importantly, make sure that employees understand what they are signing. So, when you provide the arbitration agreement to your new hire — whether as a standalone or as part of an employee handbook — confirm that the employee acknowledges that to which he/she is agreeing.

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