The company is supporting a bill before Congress that would void employment contract clauses that require victims of sexual harassment or discrimination to seek arbitration. It is also modifying its own employment contracts.
Microsoft says it will eliminate language in its employment contracts that would require workers who bring sexual-harassment claims against the company to enter arbitration instead of a courtroom.
The announcement came as the Redmond technology company threw its support behind a bill, introduced by senators last week, that would void employment contract clauses that require victims of sexual harassment or discrimination to seek arbitration, or would prevent them from discussing their cases publicly.
A culture of silence, sometimes mandated by employers or as a condition of settlements, has come under fire amid a broader national conversation around workplace sexual harassment and assault.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Democratic colleague Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, introduced the bill last week. Their research shows as many as 60 million Americans are barred by such contract clauses from bringing harassment claims in court.
During a recent conversation about cybersecurity and immigration topics, Graham asked Microsoft President Brad Smith to consider supporting the new legislation, Smith said in a blog post early Tuesday.
“As each new story about sexual harassment demonstrates, current approaches in this area have proved insufficient,” said Smith, who oversees Microsoft’s response to internal harassment claims as the company’s chief legal officer.
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“Because the silencing of voices has helped perpetuate sexual harassment, the country should guarantee that people can go to court to ensure these concerns can always be heard,” he said.
Smith said Microsoft has never enforced an arbitration provision related to sexual harassment. The company, he said prides itself on “having an open-door policy that encourages employees to raise any such concerns internally so they can be investigated thoroughly and addressed appropriately.”
Still, he said Microsoft has on the books contract clauses among “a small segment” of its labor force that would require arbitration for sexual-harassment claims. Smith said the company had decided to waive those immediately rather than wait for Congress to mandate the change.