Three years ago, California passed a law prohibiting companies from requiring workers to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to settle workplace sexual harassment, assault and discrimination claims. This was done as a response to the #MeToo movement. Many women had complained that employers were forcing them to agree not to discuss their complaints in exchange for settlements.
Now, a new law has broadened that prohibition to a wider range of cases, including race and disability discrimination. The Silenced No More Act will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
Now, companies can no longer force complaining workers to sign non-disclosure or non-disparagement clauses as part of settlements of internal discrimination and harassment claims. A non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, generally orders the worker to avoid discussing the situation or the terms of their settlement with anyone, including friends and family. A non-disparagement clause essentially orders the worker not to say any negative things about the company. Both are now barred in discrimination and harassment cases.
Public exposure could hold companies accountable
Supporters of the law argue that keeping people from publicly speaking about their experiences of workplace discrimination or harassment erodes the public dialogue and keeps bad actors in business. Letting people discuss their experiences honestly could drive down discrimination by those who repeatedly engage in wrongdoing.
The new law was co-sponsored by a former Pinterest worker. The woman, who is African-American, says that she had been “pushed aside” by managers at the company and underpaid in some areas. She quit the company after experiencing both race and gender discrimination. Pinterest signed on as a corporate supporter of the new law.
Many companies claim they have a diverse and inclusive workplace, but it is open to question whether they are taking all the necessary steps to address historic discrimination and harassment. The Silenced No Longer Act may shine a light on repeat offenders and hold them accountable for their promises.
Have you been discriminated against or harassed at work? If you complained, were you asked to sign away your right to speak out about it? Now may be the time to explore your legal options.
Leigh Law Group represents employees in discrimination and harassment cases throughout California.