Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law the Silenced No More Act on March 24, 2022. The new law places specific restrictions in the way employers use nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions in employment agreements and independent contractor agreements. In light of Governor Inslee’s recent signing, employers with Washington employees should revise their employment agreements so that they comply with current law.
What Employment Agreement Provisions are Now Void and Unenforceable?
Under the new law, any provision in an agreement between an employer and an employee is void and unenforceable if it asks an employee not to disclose or discuss conduct, or the existence of a settlement involving conduct, that the employee reasonably believes is:
- Illegal discrimination,
- Illegal harassment,
- Illegal retaliation,
- A wage and hour violation, or
- Sexual assault.
The law does not define the term “reasonable belief.”
As to the term “conduct,” the new law applies to nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions concerning conduct that occurs:
- At the workplace,
- At a work-related event coordinated by or through the employer,
- Between employees, or
- Between an employer and an employee, whether on or off the employment premises.
The law defines an “employee” as a current, former, or prospective employee or independent contractor.
What Specific Agreements Does the Silenced No More Act Apply To?
The Act applies to nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions used in:
- Employment agreements,
- Independent contractor agreements,
- Agreements to pay compensation in exchange for the release of a legal claim [This is likely to be the most impact for Employers], and
- Any other agreements between an employer and an employee.
What are the Penalties for Violating the New Law?
An employer that violates the act may be liable in a civil cause of action for actual or statutory damages of $10,000, whichever is more, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
When Does the New Law Become Effective?
The law goes into effect on June 9, 2022. But the law does apply retroactively in certain situations. The latter means that employers should start to act now to ensure their agreements comply with the law’s new mandates.
What Should an Employer Do?
An employer that employs a Washington employee should take critical steps now in light of the new law. These include:
- Review and update your employment agreements, handbooks, or policies with nondisclosure and/or nondisparagement provisions to make sure they fall in line with the new requirements,
- Establish a policy on a go-forward basis to train your staff to help ensure they are properly educated on the new requirements, and
- Consult with a skilled attorney to make sure you fully understand all of the Silenced No More Act’s directives.
More questions? Not sure if your employment agreements comply with the new law?
Foundry Law Group Is Here to Help!
The attorneys at Foundry Law Group have years of experience in helping businesses comply with state employment laws and policies. Our team follows the latest developments affecting our clients’ operations, and we apply that knowledge as we build proactive strategies for long-term protection. We are always here to help so make sure to contact our talented team now!