Under the new federal “Speak Out Act,” employers will no longer be able to enforce pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses to disputes involving sexual assault and sexual harassment claims. The new law, which passed with bipartisan support in Congress, was signed into law by President Biden on December 7. The new law took effect immediately.
The goal of the new law is to prevent the practice of using pre-dispute agreements to silence employees from reporting sexual impropriety in the workplace. Employers’ use of non-disparagement agreements (NDAs) to keep employees’ sexual harassment claims quiet came under scrutiny during the #MeToo movement.
The exact impact of the new law is not clear yet, however. A key limitation to the law is its application only to pre-dispute agreements. This means that NDAs containing non-disclosure or non-disparagement clauses entered into after a dispute concerning sexual assault or harassment has arisen are not prohibited or covered by the new law. However, employers still cannot preclude employees from reporting violations of employment laws to agencies entrusted with enforcing such laws, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Additionally, the law does not define the term “dispute,” making it unclear whether a dispute requires the filing of a lawsuit or whether a complaint to a manager or HR qualifies as a dispute. Continue reading ›