On Dec. 7, President Joe Biden signed the Speak Out Act into law. The legislation prohibits employers from enforcing pre-dispute nondisclosure agreements (NDA) and non-disparagement clauses related to sexual harassment or assault.
The bill’s passage was one of the rare moments of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., as it cleared the Senate with unanimous consent and passed the House by a vote of 315 to 109. While the bill clearly represents progress against sexual harassment in the workplace, it has limitations.
The legislation prohibits pre-dispute NDAs
Many employers require workers to sign NDAs and non-disparagement clauses as a condition of their employment. These agreements protect employers by silencing workers if they or others become victims of sexual harassment at a later date. The new law only applies to these “forced” pre-dispute agreements.
The Speak Out Act does not apply when NDAs are signed as part of a settlement for a sexual harassment lawsuit. But the new law protects others in the workplace who witness and report misconduct. The legislation represents a significant step forward as millions of American workers have been forced to sign these pre-dispute NDAs and non-disparagement clauses.
Several states previously enacted protections
In addition to the new federal rules, California, New York and a handful of other states already have their own versions of the Speak Out Act in effect. On Jan. 1, 2022, California’s Silenced No More Act expanded existing laws to prevent or restrict confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses in settlement agreements related to harassment, retaliation and discrimination claims covered under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Both the Federal Speak Out Act and the California Silenced No More Act protect workers and limit employers’ ability to keep this illegal and despicable behavior out of the public eye. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it’s crucial to consider experienced legal guidance from lawyers who prioritize your best interests and help you achieve justice, whether publicly or privately.