Recently, California passed a series of employment laws, one of which makes a number of stipulations regarding unlawful employment practices under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Among other things, the new law keeps employers from striking up a deal to secure an employee's silence in exchange for a raise, bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment.
Which deals are banned?
Specifically, employers cannot require an employee to sign a non-disparagement agreement or another document that keeps the employee from disclosing information about unlawful activity at work, such as sexual harassment. This also includes a ban on imposing any documents that secure a release of a claim or right under FEHA.
If you have an existing agreement, it is now rendered unenforceable under the new law.
The bill also holds employers accountable for sexual harassment by "nonemployees" in the workplace. These nonemployees include:
- Unpaid interns
- Unpaid volunteers
- Service or repair workers under contract with the employer
If the employer is aware or should have been aware of unacceptable conduct by employees or nonemployees, and fails to take immediate corrective action, the employer will face consequences under the new law.
Organizations with more than 50 employees are also required to provide at least 2 hours of education and training concerning the issue of sexual harassment to all employees within 6 months of starting their position and once every 2 years after.
Organizations that deny a person the rights to which they are entitled under this law may be required to pay the victim up to $25,000 in civil penalties.
There are a number of employment-related decisions reached in previous court rulings that are overturned by this law. If you have been coerced into signing an agreement that secures your silence about unlawful acts in your workplace, talk to a lawyer to learn more about your options.
It's important that employees continue to fight for their right to be safe from discrimination or harassment at work by speaking up about these incidents.