News & Commentary

November 20, 2023

Morgan Sperry

Morgan Sperry is a student at Harvard Law School and also serves as OnLabor's Social Media Director.

In today’s news and commentary, The New York Times Magazine takes aim at “stay-or-pay” clauses in employment contracts, and law professors offer guidance to employees and students being retaliated against for political speech.

Today, The New York Times Magazine is drawing attention to “stay-or-pay” clauses, a new flavor of training repayment agreement provisions (“TRAPs”) that go beyond merely requiring specialized workers to repay training costs if they leave their jobs before a given period of time, and stray into actually requiring workers to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages if they quit. Even worse, “stay-or-pay” clauses frequently include forced arbitration agreements, meaning that any disagreements regarding the legality and enforceability of the clauses will be adjudicated by a private arbitrator (who is generally paid for by the employer) rather than in a public courtroom. David Seligman—the Executive Director of Towards Justice, a Denver-based nonprofit that litigates on behalf of workers—notes that TRAPs structuring a “worker as debtor” employment relationship have proliferated since 2016, and these latest “stay-or-pay” clauses are particularly concerning. Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a study on the consumer harms inherent in employer-driven debt, highlighting that TRAPs cause reverberating harm beyond just to the workers they directly constrain.

As workers across sectors continue to experience retaliation for speaking out about the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, some are taking legal action against their employers. On Friday, a doctor allegedly fired from his role at NYU Langone Health after reposting social media content that “criticized people who supported the violence toward and death of Israelis” sued. NYU Langone also suspended residents for circulating social media posts supporting Palestine (but those individuals have yet to sue). Last week, a cohort of law professors led by Brishen Rogers, of Georgetown University Law Center, and Noah Zatz, of UCLA School of Law, released a memorandum outlining Title VII’s application to employee and student political speech. Their memo addresses how plaintiffs in Title VII cases prove disparate treatment discrimination, and then considers how that governing law would apply in several hypothetical situations informed by recent events.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.