Employees Have 6 Months To Enforce Arbitration Awards

Gavel and dollar sign from arbitration dispute
Arbitration of Employment Law Disputes

Employees have only six (6) months to ask a Judge to enforce an arbitration award that is entered under a collective bargaining agreement.  See Harris v. Oak Grove Resources, LLC, No. 2:16-cv-00015-JEO, 2016 WL 3997254 (N.D. Ala. Jul. 26, 2015).  Anthony Harris relied upon a collective bargaining agreement to contest his termination from employment.  On June 21, 2013, an arbitrator ordered Mr. Harris reinstated to employment with back pay.  The arbitrator ordered the parties to negotiate the amount of back pay owed to Mr. Harris, and agreed to keep his file open until February 15, 2014 to resolve any disputes.

Mr. Harris claimed that Oak Grove refused to negotiate, and instead unilaterally issued him a check on February 28, 2014 in an amount below what Mr. Harris claimed was owed.  Mr. Harris then waited until December 3, 2015 to file a claim in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama seeking “enforcement” of the arbitration award.

Oak Grove removed the case to federal court and argued that Mr. Harris’s state law claims should be dismissed because they were preempted by Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act.  Magistrate Judge John Ott agreed, finding:  “an employee’s claim for enforcement of an arbitration award rendered under a collective bargaining agreement [is] preempted by section 301(a) of the LMRA.”  After reaching that conclusion, Judge Ott further relied upon other authorities to hold that an employee possesses only six months from the time a section 301 claim accrues to assert a claim.

In this case, Mr. Harris’s claim would have accrued at least by February 28, 2014 — when Oak Grove sent the check.  But, Mr. Harris waited a year and ten months from that date to seek enforcement of the award.  As a result, Judge Ott found that Mr. Harris’s claim was barred by the six-month statute of limitations.

Harris and the authorities relied upon by Judge Ott provide employers and employees with a definite, fixed timeline to resolve any disputes related to an arbitration.  Employees who fail to assert their rights within that six-month timeline do so at their own peril.