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Ensure workers understand waivers before signing

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,People Management

The idea behind alternative dispute resolution is that cases will take less time and cost less money to litigate.

But that may not always be true. Often, employees who have signed arbitration agreements and promised to use an alternative dispute-resolution process end up suing in federal court to try to get the agreement thrown out.

Courts often oblige.

Recent case: Alan and Kimberly Alonso, a married couple, both accepted job offers from Huron Valley Ambulance. They signed an alternative dispute-resolution agreement in which they agreed to bring any employment dispute to an internal grievance-review board within six months of the event triggering the dispute.

A month later, after they had begun work, they attended an orientation program. Only then did managers discuss the alternative dispute-resolution process, telling new employees they could get more information online.

Both Alan and Kimberly ended up with employment disputes. Alan was terminated for allegedly performing his job under the influence of an illegal drug and for providing what Huron Valley thought was misleading information about his military service. Kimberly claimed Huron Valley retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave.

The two sued to get the alternative dispute-resolution agreement dismissed.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed they weren’t bound by the agreement. It looked at the circumstances under which they had signed the agreement and considered the delay between the time they signed and the employer’s orientation program. The court concluded they hadn’t made a “knowing and intelligent waiver.” (Alonso v. Huron Valley Ambulance, No. 09-1812, 6th Cir., 2010)

Final note: For more on arbitration agreements, including the pros and cons, see "Consider alternatives before choosing mandatory arbitration."

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