Can an arbitration award be appealed?

The standard agreement between parties to an arbitration specifies that the arbitrator’s decision shall be final and binding upon both sides. Therefore, it is unusual for an arbitrator’s award to be successfully appealed. For more than fifty years courts generally did not consider reviewing or vacating (invalidating) an arbitrator’s award, except under very limited circumstances, such as:

1) The arbitrator did not write a decision and award that respected the confines of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. For example, many agreements provide that an arbitrator may not add to or change language in the agreement;

2) The arbitrator decided issues not placed before him or her by the parties;

3) The arbitrator’s award was incomprehensible;

4) The arbitrator’s award was contrary to state or federal law; or

5) The arbitrator engaged in deception or fraud – such as failure to disclose to the parties that he or she is a major stockholder in the employer’s company or is the union representative’s close relative.

More recently, however, there have been exceptions to the courts’ general respect for the finality of the arbitrator’s award. For example, some courts have occasionally reversed an award they considered to be “contrary to public policy.” In addition, some awards may be reviewed if they concern federal employment laws (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1972) or various state laws, such as those covering arbitration of state employee grievances (such as policemen or teachers).