I’m not a big fan of mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts: Although arbitration is likely to proceed more quickly than litigation (other than small-claims cases), it is not necessarily less expensive. However, I recently saw an arbitration clause that I like quite a bit.
A recent court decision held that an employee in California has the right to file a wage claim and to have a hearing on that claim before the Labor Commissioner, even if the employee has signed an arbitration agreement.
In California, employees who are not paid what they are owed can file wage claims (see Wage Claims – Nasty but [Sometimes] Necessary). Because the employee need not retain legal counsel, and because the Labor Commissioner may help the employee, a wage-claim hearing provides to the employee benefits and leverage that are not available in other venues, such as litigation or arbitration.
I prepared a Proprietary Information and Invention Agreement (“PIIA”) to be signed by the employees of a small but established technology company in the Bay Area. The PIIA ensures that the company owns whatever employees create on the job, and it obligates employees not to disclose the company’s proprietary information to third parties.
The client pointed out, however, a conflict between the PIIA and the existing Employee Handbook: The PIIA states that any dispute will be resolved in state or federal court in San Francisco, but the Handbook states that all employment disputes will be subject to arbitration. The client asked me how this conflict should be resolved.