While the statistics for employee lawsuits in 2019 may appear promising for improved workplaces in Illinois and nationwide, they may highlight more troubling realities. The year marked the first time in over 10 years that the number of class-action lawsuits filed over issues like workplace discrimination, endangered retirement benefits or wage and hour violations dropped. However, this may not indicate that employers are actually improving their practices or offering safer, more responsive and equitable workplaces. Instead, a growing number of workplaces may be enforcing arbitration against employees rather than allowing them to proceed with class-action lawsuits.
In a decision, the Supreme Court allowed employers to require waivers for class-action lawsuits for their employees, requiring them to used closed-door arbitration practices instead. Some say that the drop in class-action lawsuits over workplace issues, especially common problems like wage theft or employment discrimination, indicates that companies have updated their policies to require arbitration in light of the high court’s ruling. There was a 5.8% decline across the board in workplace class-action lawsuits, including cases dealing with retirement benefits, wage violations and workplace discrimination. However, there were still 25,000 federal cases filed across the country to challenge these issues.
Mandatory arbitration is the subject of significant political pushback and worker pressure. It has been used in sexual harassment cases to keep abusers in their positions while preventing public exposure of the problems inside a company. As a result of the #MeToo movement, some companies have publicly cancelled their mandatory arbitration clauses after employee walkouts and media attention.
Employees have rights on the job, even if too many companies make it difficult for workers to enjoy an environment free of workplace discrimination or wage and hour violations. People facing mistreatment at work may consult with an employment law attorney about their options to seek justice.