As a condition of employment, Microsoft is requiring temporary employees joining the company for the first time, as well as those whose old contracts have expired, to agree to the new provision. U.S. District Judge John Coughenour has scheduled a hearing on the contract for next Thursday.
David Stobaugh, a Seattle attorney representing Microsoft temps in a federal class-action lawsuit, argued that the new contract violates federal employment law.
"The courts have held that, in order to relinquish your rights, you have to have a willing and voluntary waiver," he said in an interview. The new contract "shows this is not voluntary, because it's done under the threat of discharge."
But Microsoft spokesman Dan Leach defended the contract. "The intent was to clarify that these individuals work for contingent agencies," he said. "We're not going to take anything away from individuals that won anything in a lawsuit."
A group of temporary workers sued Microsoft in 1992, claiming that because the software giant treats them just as it does permanent employees, they should receive similar benefits. The class-action lawsuit, which still is pending in federal court in Seattle, seeks an order allowing the temps to participate in Microsoft's employee stock purchase plan.
In addition to that lawsuit, Stobaugh's firm recently filed a new one seeking health insurance coverage for temps at Microsoft. Under the terms of the new contract, however, contractors could waive any benefits they may gain from the lawsuits, Stobaugh said.