As you're about to be hired, your prospective employer tells you that if you want the job you must agree to submit any future legal dispute against the company to mediation or arbitration.
If you don't sign, no job. If you do sign, you waive your legal right to sue in a public court and must trust to an arbitrator or mediator for a fair hearing.
Do you smell fish?
In a court, likely you'll get a fair judge, maybe even a sympathetic jury, possibly a good or generous settlement.
The flip side is that you probably can't afford to hire a lawyer by the hour, so if you do win in court, your lawyer will pocket one-third of your award. And it could be years before your case is heard.
By agreeing to an employer's alternative dispute resolution system, your case will be heard quickly. If an arbitrator or mediator is used, you may still get a level playing field.
Anxious to be hired, you might just say, "Where do I sign?"
But because doing so could affect your fortune and your fate, you might want to consider saying, "I'm no lawyer. You're going to have to explain to me just how your system works. Then I'll need to show it to my lawyer."
Alternative resolution systems come in more designs and colors than Ukranian Easter eggs. For a guide, you may want to look at a new "protocol" hammered out by the American Bar Association and other litigation experts.
The ABA formed a National Task Force on Alternative Dispute Resolution with the American Arbitration Association, prominent corporation and labor lawyers, and civil libertarians.
Their findings on company systems are summed up by the panel's co-chair, Max Zimny, general counsel for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, in New York:
"We have come out in favor of alternative dispute resolution systems. We believe they can serve an important purpose in the non-union workplace if such systems provide for fairness and due process for the people involved."
"Most people with an employment dispute today get no justice because they can't afford to go to court," added panelist Lew Maltby, director of the Workplace Rights Office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Private arbitration can help, but only if it's fair. These guidelines are a big step in that direction."
One gap in the guidelines though, is that the panelists couldn't agree among themselves on whether an employee should …