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Microsoft improves transparency for sexual harassment claims

It won't force arbitration that could keep some claims out of court.
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Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The slew of sexual harassment disclosures in the entertainment business has started to influence the technology world, and Microsoft in particular sees this as an opportunity to rethink its policies. It's waiving the requirement for pre-dispute arbitration agreements in sexual harassment claims, which could keep complaints out of court and thus out of the public eye. The company already didn't enforce an arbitration clause relating to sexual harassment, but now wants to eliminate that obligation for the "limited number" of workers who would be affected.

The move comes simultaneously with Microsoft's endorsement of a bipartisan Senate bill, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act, that would ensure claims are addressed in court. As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand notes, this should prevent serial harassers from "climbing the corporate ladder" and let victims speak out. In theory, you should see fewer instances of toxic corporate culture where management tolerates or even perpetrates harassment knowing there will be few if any public consequences.

This doesn't mean that Microsoft is doing away with arbitration as a whole. It sees this as a "reasonable" complement to internal processes for other complaints. And that's unfortunate -- companies often prefer arbitration because it tends to artificially favor their side and maintain secrecy (hence why telecoms often force arbitration for disputes). However, the waiver could have a significant impact on sexual harassment claims at Microsoft and the tech industry at large. Victims may be more comfortable coming forward, and other companies might implement similar policies.

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