On October 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 51 (“AB 51”). In a momentous upheaval of existing law, AB 51 prohibits California employers from requiring employees to agree to arbitrate certain disputes as a condition of new or continued employment. AB 51 also prohibits employers from retaliating against any employee who refuses to agree to arbitration. AB 51 takes effect January 1, 2020.
AB 51 is one of many bills to pass the desks of California governors since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. This bill specifically forbids employers from requiring employees to “waive any right, forum, or procedure” for claims arising from the Labor Code or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), California’s principal statute outlawing employment and housing discrimination. While AB 51 is a response to the #MeToo movement, and gained popularity as a measure aimed at bringing to light workplace sexual misconduct, AB 51’s reach is extensive, and touches any mandatory employment agreement which compels arbitration of any claim brought pursuant to the Labor Code or the FEHA.