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What Is An Arbitration Agreement For Employment?

In years past, a case of discrimination against an employee or employees might yield a large verdict, especially if the jury could be made to empathize with the plaintiff’s struggles against their large employer. However, this has become less and less common, for a variety of reasons, not least of all because many employers are stipulating in job offers that any disputes must be handled via arbitration. What is an arbitration agreement for employment? Arbitration is when a dispute is submitted by both parties to an impartial person or panel appointed by mutual consent (or by law). Sometimes this process can result in an equitable solution to a difficult problem, but sometimes it is simply not the appropriate way to fix such a fraught issue.

The Fourth Circuit’s Pet Cause

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is based in Richmond, VA. They handle cases from five states (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina) as well as from federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Somewhat uniquely among the federal districts, the Fourth has spearheaded the movement of allowing and enforcing arbitration agreements in employment-related disputes. The first Supreme Court case related to the issue came from the Fourth Circuit. All told, the Circuit has shown itself very willing to back up arbitration agreements and enforce provisions calling for the medium to be the only means of dispute resolution.

The EEOC, meanwhile, has publicly stated its opposition to mandatory arbitration clauses, which are what many contained in job offers and employee handbooks turn out to be. The agency’s position is that the agreements are contrary to the principles embodied in U.S. anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In some cases, this turns out to be true in practice if not in theory. Arbitration, especially mandatory arbitration, has both advantages and disadvantages. Determining whether or not particular treatment was fair or unfair is a large part of that. However, given the Fourth Circuit’s rulings, more and more jobs are including arbitration agreements in their offers, so as to save on court expenses.

Pros & Cons Of Arbitration For Employees

While often an employee has little or no choice about whether or not to arbitrate a dispute, there are nonetheless some advantages to the arbitration process that may not be found in court. While arbitrators are generally less inclined to give large awards than civil juries are, they may be more likely to side with an employee on simple fairness grounds. Arbitration is also a much simpler and more concise forum, requiring less legwork and production of small details than would civil discovery. Also, one factor that can go either way is that it is more difficult to have an arbitrator’s award overturned than it would be to overturn a jury’s. Appeals of civil rulings are common, whereas it is much more complex and time-consuming to overturn the decision of an arbitrator.

In South Carolina, it is important to keep in mind that the Uniform Arbitration Act (UAA) actually prohibits mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts unless they specifically state that the UAA will apply. It also sets out the steps by which an award may be vacated or modified, though it is clear that the instructions must be followed to the letter. Some may try to argue that the arbitration agreement itself is invalid. In such a case, ordinary South Carolina contract law controls. Is there an offer and acceptance? Is there consideration? Is there performance? If all the components of a contract are present and satisfactory, the UAA holds that contract to be valid and enforceable in all cases besides rare exceptions.

Contact An Employment Law Attorney

Many times, an employee who has been mistreated will attempt to bring their grievance to court. However, sometimes arbitration is the only choice, and consulting a Charleston employment law discrimination attorney can help make the idea much less intimidating. Attorney A. Christopher Potts is happy to sit down with you to help answer your questions about the process. Contact our office today to set up an initial consultation.

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