February was a bit of a crappy month for Uber.
Well, aside of the millions of dollars I trust they made in fares.
The month began with the vestiges of a January protest for taking fares at JFK airport, while taxis stood in solidarity with refugees. Then, there were allegations of sexual harassment, more allegations of sexual harassment, and an Uber executive who had to resign for not disclosing prior allegations of sexual harassment. Oh, and Google is suing Uber too.
How will Uber survive?
Well, there is a silver lining. And that, my friends, is a victory that Uber earned in federal court last week, where a NY judge held (here) that three Chinese-speaking drivers who speak little or no English were nonetheless bound to Uber’s agreement to arbitrate when they clicked “YES I AGREE” in the Uber app.
A party is under an obligation to read a document before accepting its terms and cannot avoid the effect of the document by asserting that he or she did not read or understand its contents…Furthermore, even when the failure to read the contract is attributable to the party’s inability to read or understand the language in which the contract is written, the party is still bound by his or her assent….New York courts have repeatedly ruled that even the fact that a prospective employee possesses an imperfect grasp of the English language will not relieve the employee of making a reasonable effort to have the document explained to him.
Now, before you get any bright ideas about re-writing your arbitration agreements in Pig Latin to pull a fast one on your unsuspecting new hires, just remember that your mileage may vary on this here NY opinion.
And, as for your employee handbooks, rather than go the unintelligible route, you’re gonna want them crystal clear. For example, if you ever find yourself defending a sexual harassment claim — I may be looking at you, Uber — a critical defense is establishing that you have created an avenue for employees to complain about mistreatment at work. Generally, that’s part of your anti-harassment policy. Therefore, you want that policy to be easy to understand.
And not just in English.
If you have a multilingual workforce, get that handbook translated into those other languages so that everyone can understand it.