Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Highmark Health Requiring Employees to Use Arbitration

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Highmark Health Requiring Employees to Use Arbitration

Article excerpt

Highmark Health is now requiring non-union employees to give up their right to sue over work disputes in favor of using a neutral arbitrator. The policy does not apply at this time to Allegheny Health Network; its vision unit, HVHC Inc; or independent contractors, said spokeswoman Lynn Seay.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program is designed "to streamline our approach to resolving legal disputes," according to an internal Highmark document about the policy that was obtained by the Post-Gazette.

Other insurers have adopted similar policies; Aetna, for example, requires new hires to agree to arbitration as a condition of employment, while UPMC and UPMC Health Plan do not have such a requirement.

A scholar who specializes in the study of consumer and employment arbitration said this is not good news for employees.

"It's streamlined because employees are stripped of all kinds of procedural rights that would be available in court," said Imre Stephen Szalai, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. "It only serves the interests of the employer, not the employee."

Mr. Szalai cited a 2011 study of 3,945 arbitration cases by Cornell University researcher Alexander Colvin that found employees won in arbitration 21.4 percent of the time. Studies from the late 1990s found employee win rates in the 33-36 percent range when the dispute landed in federal court and 50-60 percent when decided in state court.

Mr. Colvin's analysis also found arbitration awards were substantially lower than cases decided in court.

Ms. Seay said Highmark Health and its companies have very few disputes with employees that end up in court litigation. "But even with those few, the process can be time consuming and expensive for all parties." Under its policy, Highmark Health will pay the costs of arbitration, minus a $200 filing fee.

She said the new alternative dispute resolution policy was not unique to Highmark, noting companies such as Coca-Cola and United Healthcare use versions of it.

Ms. Seay said since the policy's inception in July, "98 percent of eligible employees willingly signed the agreement, which comes to nearly 10,000 individuals." A total of 10,700 Highmark Health employees are affected.

The policy calls for using an arbitrator chosen off a list of nine names from the neutral American Arbitration Association, and "is meant to be quicker and less costly than going to court," the document says. "It also tends to be less formal, less intimidating, more convenient, and gives both of us more control over who will be deciding our covered disputes."

Michael Clark, spokesman for the American Arbitration Association in New York City, said the fact that the employee and employer choose the arbitrator benefits both parties. …

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