A common problem faced by workers in California when they have been confronted with employment law violations such as harassment or discrimination is the fear of reprisal for reporting it. Part of that is having a non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreement. These agreements served as a protective shield for employers who could use them to warrant sanctioning employees who spoke out if they were victims themselves or witnessed others being mistreated. A new law was signed – going into effect in 2022 – that will address this. Employees should be aware of what it means.
How “Silenced No More” will allow workers to speak out
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 331 in October. Alternatively referred to as “Silenced No More,” its passage frees former employees from agreements that stop them from speaking out about what happened in the workplace after they have left the job. For example, if a former employee was subjected to harassment that was pervasive and ongoing, they are no longer bound by the NDAs to remain silent about it. As part of the separation agreement when the employee leaves, there will be a clear statement informing the former employee that they are not required to avoid discussion or disclosure about the behavior.
Agreements prohibiting workers from speaking out about their experiences in their former workplace were often used to protect secrets and keep inside information from getting to competitors. The intent was understandable and is still in place. However, when it was being used to stop workers from revealing what they were subjected to or witnessed when wrongdoing took place, it allowed those who mistreated workers to avoid punishment. It also left remaining employees and prospective employees vulnerable to that same illegal treatment because the alleged transgressors were not taken to task for their behavior.
Having experienced guidance can help with understanding new employment laws
Common fears of employees who are dealing with employment law violations are that they will not be believed, nothing of consequence will be done if they complain, it can hinder their chance at advancement or they will be labeled as a problem in their current job and future endeavors. To understand how this new law will change the employer-employee relationship and the rights that will be granted starting in 2022, it may be wise to have experienced legal advice. Employees and former employees can be prepared to act with the freedom from these NDAs.