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New law prohibits severance agreements from being tied to silence

Jan 13, 2022 | Breach of Contract Claims

Since the #MeToo movement gained traction a few years ago, there have been efforts by advocates and lawmakers to prohibit employers from requiring victims’ silence on sexual harassment or other mistreatment in exchange for a financial settlement.

Several years ago, before leaving office, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Stand Together Against Nondisclosures (STAND) Act. It prohibited employers from using nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) to prevent victims of sexual harassment and discrimination from speaking out about their perpetrators. 

How Silenced No More expands on the STAND Act

A new law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom – the Silenced No More Act — took effect on Jan. 1 of this year. It prohibits employers from using NDAs, non-disparagement agreements or severance agreements to silence employees on racial, disability and other types of discrimination and harassment they experienced. That means California workers are now free to speak out honestly about any such treatment or other unlawful workplace activity without risking the loss of their severance or settlement funds or being subject to a lawsuit.

The legislation was championed by many who had worked in the tech industry here in California where both sexism and racism have been known to run rampant. Some have argued that they suffered harassment and discrimination based on their gender and their race, so it was difficult to be able to speak publicly about one without discussing the other.

Will the new law help change workplace culture?

Advocates for the new law hope it will help bring shed light on companies and executives who mistreat or condone mistreatment of their employees. This should incentivize companies that have been guilty of this to clean up their act, if only for their own self-preservation. It can also help warn unsuspecting potential victims away from these companies until they change their culture.

It’s crucial for all California employers to understand the new law and ensure that they abide by it. Failing to do so could cost you financially in legal actions and be harmful to your reputation. If you have questions as you draft or revise your severance agreements and other contracts, it’s always wise to seek legal guidance to help ensure that they’re legally compliant.