SB 331 Empowers Workers and Helps to End Hostile Work Environments
SACRAMENTO – In order to empower survivors of workplace harassment or discrimination, the California State Senate today passed important legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that would expand current protections against secret settlements to now cover settlement agreements involving all forms of harassment or discrimination. Also known as the “Silenced No More Act”, Senate Bill 331 would also expand the prohibition on overly broad confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses in employment agreements to cover workers who are required to sign these types of clauses as part of a severance agreement.
“SB 331 is critical legislation that will protect the rights of California workers to speak out—if they so wish—when they are a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace,” Senator Leyva said. “It is unacceptable that workers would be forced to stay silent after being subjected to this atrocious behavior, especially when mandatory silence only serves to perpetuate the culture of secrecy that allows abusers to continue tormenting and abusing other workers. The ‘Silenced No More Act’ will empower survivors and help to hold perpetrators accountable for their intolerable actions.”
In response to the #MeToo movement which revealed the significant role that secret settlements played in shielding perpetrators of sexually inappropriate behavior and even sex-related crimes, Senator Leyva authored and the Governor signed SB 820 (2018)—also known as the STAND (Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures) Act. This historic law now specifically bans non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sex discrimination, unless requested by the worker, as it was clear that secret settlements were helping to preserve hostile work environments by allowing complaints to be hidden from public view.
As secret settlements clearly play as much a role in perpetuating workplace discrimination, harassment and bias based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, etc. as they do related to sexual harassment or sex discrimination, the “Silenced No More Act” seeks to ensure that those who raise these complaints about improper—and even illegal—behavior in the workplace are able to speak openly about their experiences.
In 2018, California also passed another #MeToo bill (SB 1300, Jackson) that made a number of crucial changes to California’s harassment and discrimination laws. Though confidentiality and non-disparagement agreements that prevent workers from disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace are now banned as a condition of employment due to SB 1300, many employers still force workers to sign these types of provisions as part of severance packages when a worker leaves a job.
Highlighting the need for SB 331, two Black women recently raised gender and race discrimination claims against a company where “they were underpaid, faced racist comments from their manager and were subject to retaliation.” While the company initially dismissed their claims, the women’s stories generated tremendous media interest and inspired other women to speak openly about their own experiences. The women eventually settled their claims and were protected by the STAND Act, though only for their gender-based claims. In other words, though they can speak about their experience involving gender discrimination, they cannot speak about their experience involving race discrimination. As harassment or discrimination claims are oftentimes intersectional (e.g., based on gender and race or age and sexual orientation), SB 331 will resolve a situation where the NDA covers only one aspect of the workers’ experience and claim.
Sponsored jointly by the California Employment Lawyers Association, Earthseed and Equal Rights Advocates, SB 331 is also supported by AI Now Institute, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Anti-Defamation League, Bayla Ventures, Brandworkers, California Conference of Machinists, California Conference of the Amalgamated Transit Union, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, California Women’s Law Center, Consumer Attorneys of California, Disability Rights California, Engineers and Scientists of California / IFPTE / Local 20 / AFL-CIO, Force the Issue, Indivisible California: StateStrong, Legal Aid at Work, Lift Our Voices, National Association of Social Workers / California Chapter, National Council of Jewish Women-California, National Employment Law Project, Professional and Technical Engineers / IFPTE / Local 21 / AFL-CIO, Radical Candor LLC, Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, SEIU California, TechEquity Collaborative, The Center for Institutional Courage, The People’s Parity Project, The Real Facebook Oversight Board, UNITE HERE / AFL-CIO, Utility Workers Union of America, Vaya Consulting LLC, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Whistleblower International Network, Women’s Foundation California and Work Equity. The “Silenced No More Act” now advances to the California State Assembly for consideration.