Make arbitration agreements stick–even if there’s no employee signature

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in HR Management,Human Resources

If you use arbitration as a way to resolve employment disputes, you no doubt realize that you need the employee’s signature on that agreement in order to make it a binding contract.

But what happens if that signature isn’t there or perhaps was faked? If you also reference the agreement in the offer letter and the handbook, an actual signature may not matter. What matters is that the potential employee was on notice that arbitration would be the remedy for legal wrongs—and took the job anyway.

Recent case: When Samantha began working for Public Storage, she almost immediately complained about sexual harassment. Then she sued in federal court.

That’s when the company trotted out an arbitration agreement Samantha purportedly “signed” by creating a company username and accessing the agreement, plus clicking through to indicate her ­signature.

Samantha told the court she never created the username. She accused her supervisor of doing so instead. Therefore, she argued, she never signed the contract and wasn’t bound by it.

The company countered that the agreement was also referred to as binding in her offer letter and in the company handbook, which Samantha did admit receiving.

That was good enough for the court. It reasoned that the agreement didn’t need to be literally signed if other evidence indicated it clearly was intended as a condition of employment and Samantha took the job anyway. The case was moved to arbitration. (Thomas v. Public Storage, No. 12-CV-8804, SD NY, 2013)

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