Governor Newsom signed the California Silenced No More Act into law on October 7, 2021. The law went into effect on January 1, 2022. Do you know what this law is and who this law protects? The law is meant to protect victims, whistleblowers, and even outsiders who may be considering working for a company.
Learn more about the Silenced No More Act. Find out how it enables you to speak up if you’ve been harassed or discriminated against in the workplace or witnessed unfair treatment in the workplace. What do you do if you feel you’re being silenced, either as a witness or a victim?
What Led to the Silenced No More Act?
Many companies require workers to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before taking or exiting a job. The NDA is designed to protect the company’s trade secrets. For example, a company that creates proprietary technology that will help track the progression of a medical condition. That’s a good use of an NDA.
Some companies also use them to keep employees from talking about unfair treatment in the workplace. Companies don’t want the general public to know what happens behind closed doors. If shared information paints the company in a negative light, they want to keep it quiet. That’s where an NDA is a bad idea. It throttles employees from sharing stories of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It allows a company to hide the truth about it’s harmful work environment.
The California Code of Civil Procedure §1001 banned the use of non-disclosure provisions in settlement agreements that stopped victims of workplace discrimination or harassment from talking about their experience with sexual assault or sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace. It also protected employees from retaliation for reporting workplace harassment or discrimination.
On January 1, 2019, California updated it with the #MeToo bill to prevent non-disparagement, non-disclosure, or confidentiality agreements from restricting or preventing the release of information in any discrimination or harassment claim. It expanded beyond sexual or gender-based discrimination and harassment. It also added terms making it illegal for an employer to require any employee from signing agreements prohibiting sharing information regarding “unlawful acts in the workplace” in order to get a promotion or raise or continue working for the company.
What does the Silenced No More law add to the existing policies? It opened the door for workers who were forced to sign non-disparagement or confidentiality agreements to receive severance packages when leaving a company. They can speak up now and share their experiences. It stemmed from two executives at a social media firm who faced unfair treatment in the workplace related to not just gender but also race. The protections under the current codes prevented them from discussing any discrimination they faced regarding their race. They were only protected in gender discrimination complaints.
Silenced No More started after two black women made social media posts about unfair working conditions where they were paid less than their associates, were subjected to racist comments by management, and were retaliated against when they spoke up. These women had associates make disparaging comments about having the women become “servants” to their co-workers. One of these women was told that the success of her marketing materials was surprising since they featured a black woman in the images. While their company’s gender discrimination policies protected the women, no policies protected them from the racial discrimination they experienced.
One of the women found that someone at her company posted her name, email address, and phone number on a controversial forum after she brought up adding new ways to caution against inflammatory content on the social media site where she worked. The members of that forum used that information to harass and threaten her. When she sent proof of the harassment to the company’s CEO, he never returned to her to report what corrective actions were taken.
California’s Silenced No More Act protects employees and their co-workers who report discrimination and harassment from situations where the discrimination or harassment takes place in more than one way. Instead of having protection from gender discrimination, it protects against cases where there is gender, racial, and religious discrimination at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they’ve had to sign an NDA; they can speak up.
Why does this matter? Suppose you’re applying for a job in a company where many employees of specific races and religions have been the victims of harassment. You’re of that race or religion and apply for the job not realizing the adverse company history. After taking the job, you become a victim of harassment. The company’s gotten away with keeping these matters hidden, so the necessary improvements to that workplace never take place. Silenced No More has the power to end this.
Wouldn’t you rather know about these other cases of discrimination and harassment regarding religion and race? Can you use this pertinent information to help shape your decision? That’s the goal of Silenced No More.
What Does Silenced No More Mean for You?
Have you been discriminated against or harassed at work? It doesn’t matter the reason. If you’ve been the victim of harassment or discrimination, you can speak up to friends, social media, journalists, etc. If you’ve witnessed harassment or discrimination and speak up for the victim, you can also share your story with anyone.
Whistleblowers and victims have the right to share their experience, even if they’re told they must sign a non-disclosure or similar agreement. Silenced No More makes it illegal for companies to hold you to the terms of an NDA. The only thing a company can require you to follow when it comes to a non-disclosure agreement is trade secrets.
Say you witness an Asian co-worker being harassed about coronavirus. Your co-worker leaves their job rather than taking the verbal abuse anymore. You won’t stand for it and report the co-worker’s harassers to human resources or the appropriate party listed in the employee handbook. If you’re told to sign an NDA as part of the complaint, you’re not bound to the terms outlined in the NDA. You can talk about it to the media or on social media. Silenced No More protects you from being terminated or demoted for talking to others about the harassment you witnessed.
Have You Been the Victim of Harassment or Discrimination?
If you’re the victim of harassment or discrimination, speak up. If you don’t feel your HR department or management takes your complaint seriously, reach out to an employment law expert. You shouldn’t be subjected to unfair treatment in the workplace.
Did you receive a settlement from your employer and had to sign paperwork stating you wouldn’t talk about the discrimination or harassment you faced? Were you forced to sign an NDA preventing you from talking about your salary or experiences with your employer in order to get an early retirement package? It could very well be an illegal requirement to get your settlement. Talk to a lawyer.
Shegerian Conniff specializes in discrimination and harassment complaints. Schedule a free consultation and learn more about your rights and how the Silenced No More Act applies to your situation. You have the right to talk about your experiences at a company, even if they’re negative. Talk to the attorneys at Shegerian Conniff to learn how to take the next steps in fighting for what’s right.