Many employers, especially those in higher-paying industries, require that newly-hired employees sign contracts that waive certain rights. These rights often include an employee’s waiver of their right to sue and arbitrate any disputes, waivers of right to sue in severance agreements, waivers of rights to pursue claims as part of a class, et cetera.
There is an almost infinite list of waivers that may be included in standard employee contracts, which are included for the purpose of protecting the employer from liability.
Historically, the courts would enforce the terms of a validly-signed employment contract as long as its terms were not ambiguous. This is a basic tenet of contract law, and the ability to enter into contractual relations, even if the bargain was not entirely equal, was viewed as an essential aspect of freedom of contract.
Recently, however, there is a growing trend among courts to more closely scrutinize employee waivers of rights. Courts now often require provisions of an employment contract to “knowingly, willingly, and voluntarily” waive their rights. Despite the at-will employment doctrine, some courts have even gone so far as to hold that requiring an employee to sign a contract or lose their job compromised the “voluntariness” aspect of intelligent waiver.
This is a developing area of the law, and it is not uncommon for employers to have questions about the language and conduct that should be used in reaching an agreement. If you have any questions, you should consult an employment law attorney.
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