In terms of harassment, it is customary for large American companies to discreetly settle these cases via arbitration procedures. This will no longer be the case at Microsoft, which changes policy in this area.
This can be seen as one of the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein affair, which sparked an unprecedented wave of revelations of sexual harassment cases. Microsoft has announced an end to a very old internal policy applied by its human resources who – in the event of a complaint of harassment of one of its employees – set up an arbitration with the people concerned, seeking to find an agreement to avoid to these cases of ending up in the courts … a practical way to proceed, with respect to cases that are not good for the image or for business.
To date, Microsoft is the largest company in the high-tech universe to make this decision. "To ignore this sort of thing has clearly had an impact in the fact that cases of sexual harassment continue to be perpetuated," acknowledged Brad Smith, director of legal affairs at Microsoft, interviewed by the New York Times. Henceforth, Microsoft will respect the laws passed by the Senate in the matter and will encourage its employees victims of harassment to get closer to the local authorities.
Wind of sex scandals on Silicon Valley
This decision comes as Silicon Valley is far from being spared by sex scandals. In recent weeks, many cases of inappropriate behavior have indeed been revealed by the press, including personalities such as Andy Rubin, Shervin Pishevar, Robert Scoble or Steve Jurvetson. A recent controversy has also affected Microsoft, accused of hiring a former trainee while he was accused of rape by one of his former co-trainees. While many Silicon Valley figures have applauded Microsoft's decision to put an end to internal arbitrations over harassment, it is unfortunate that other firms in the Valley are following the Redmond giant in this direction. The arbitration process, considered quasi-legal, was originally set up to settle disputes quickly between companies without resorting to the traditional legal process that is known to be long and costly. Over time, it has become something that is used extensively internally by US companies, including settling employee cases and staying away from the courts. Companies keeping a rather opaque communication vis-à-vis the cases dealt with in arbitration, it is usually very difficult to obtain information on these cases and agreements that are found. Of course, whether or not Microsoft arbitrates cases of harassment or discrimination of any kind does not change the fact that its human resources must be made aware of any improper conduct.