Late last month, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that an arbitration agreement between an employer and an employee need not contain an express waiver of the employee’s right to a jury trial to be enforceable.  The opinion can be read here:  Hays Group, Inc. v. Biege

In Hays Group, a trial court denied an employer’s motion to compel arbitration of an employee’s wage and age discrimination claims on the basis that the arbitration agreement did not contain an express waiver of the right to a jury trial, just a statement that claims would be “settled by final and binding arbitration.”  The Court of Appeals reasoned that the employee did knowingly waive his right to a jury trial, given that “[c]laims cannot be settled by ‘final’ and ‘binding’ arbitration except by a waiver of the right to a jury trial.”

This decision gives Oregon employers some added leeway in drafting arbitration agreements.  The best practice remains to include an express waiver of the right to a jury trial  – there is no harm in including one, and it helps cut off any employee’s arguments that he or she did not understand the scope of the agreement. 

Oregon employers should also be aware that, pursuant to a new statute effective January 1, 2008, all employee arbitration agreements  must be presented in a "written employment offer" that must be "received" by the employee at least two weeks before the first day of the employee’s employment.  Arbitration agreements may be presented to current employees, but will not be enforced unless entered into at the time of a "bona fide advancement" (such as a promotion).