Earlier this month, SB 331, more popularly known as the “Silenced No More Act,” passed the California state legislature. The bill will now proceed to Governor Gavin Newsom to be signed into law. If signed, the law will go into effect at the beginning of 2022, increasing protection for California employees who have suffered from workplace harassment or discrimination.
Currently, nondisclosure agreements and nondisparagement clauses (found in many severance and settlement agreements) stop employees from discussing their experiences with workplace harassment and discrimination. These contracts can prevent individuals from sharing their stories with the media, on social media, and even with their close friends and family.
The Silenced No More Act would prevent companies from enforcing any agreement that silences employees by preventing them from discussing their suffered workplace discrimination, harassment, or abuse.
“SB 331 will empower survivors to speak out—if they so wish—so they can hold perpetrators accountable and hopefully prevent abusers from continuing to torment and abuse other workers,” stated California State Senator Connie Leyla, who wrote the bill.
Building Off the STAND Act
In 2018, the Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act banned nondisclosure agreements from silencing employees in cases involving sexual assault, sexual harassment, or gender-based discrimination. However, it did not cover nondisclosure agreements in cases involving any type of workplace harassment or discrimination that was not gender-based.
The Silenced No More Act would protect victims of other previously overlooked types of workplace harassment and discrimination, including:
- Sexual orientation
- National origin
Could This Law Impact Workers Outside of California?
While the Silence No More Act would only apply to California workers, advocates are pushing California-based companies to extend protections to all their employees, regardless of location. This would especially affect tech sector employees, many of whom began working remotely across the country during COVID. If employers refuse to extend the law’s reach outside of California, employees at the same company would be afforded different levels of protection based on their state of residence.
Pinterest has voiced its support of the bill. The company told its employees that Pinterest would implement such policies even if SB 331 was not passed into law. Facebook, Google, and Apple have not commented on whether they would extend the bill’s protections to all of their respective employees, if passed.
Despite being a strictly California law, the Silence No More Act could spark nationwide change in how companies write nondisclosure agreements. If employees and shareholders begin to expect companies to allow employees to speak up about instances of discrimination or harassment, this Act’s protections could naturally extend to companies across the United States.