The state of California has laws and guidelines regarding the language employers can include in employment contracts.
Specifically, the guidelines do not let employers hide behind onboarding agreements, severance agreements and settlement agreements when acts of harassment, retaliation and discrimination take place in the workplace.
Hiding wrongdoing in the workplace
Employers in California would often use onboarding agreements, severance agreements and settlement agreements to hush up wrongdoing in the workplace. This way, they could protect their reputation both among the public, with other companies and with other employees in the workplace.
Now, under new laws and guidelines, employees are given the right not to sign away their right to disclose their employer’s unlawful acts.
An employee’s right to disclose
As part of onboarding, employers may ask new employees to sign non-disparagement agreements. These agreements state that in exchange for employment, the employee agrees not to disclose unlawful acts in the workplace that they may experience or become aware of, or they may agree not to make any statement that would harm or embarrassment the employer.
This is now against the law. Employees who experience discrimination or witness illegal activity in the workplace deserve the chance to disclose these actions to the appropriate authorities or even the public without fear of retaliation.
Similarly, employers can no longer ask employees, as part of a severance package, not to disclose unlawful acts they experienced or witnessed in the workplace or not to make any statements to the public that could harm or embarrass the employer.
This is especially important in cases of age discrimination, where an employee may be unlawfully forced to resign due solely to their age. Employers would require these employees to sign an agreement as part of their severance package stating they would not pursue an age discrimination lawsuit against the employer.
This is now illegal. No departing employees, regardless of age, can be barred through a severance agreement from suing the employer without first getting the right to review the agreement with an attorney within a minimum of five business days.
In addition, employers can no longer include any language in a settlement agreement following a wrongful termination lawsuit stating that the employee cannot be rehired unless the employee committed some sort of sexual wrongdoing in the workplace, or the employer has a legit, non-discriminatory reason for firing the employee.
The new guidelines protect employees
Employers are often only looking out for their own interests. They will do anything to protect their reputation, even if they have done something illegal. They may try to force employees not to disclose these illegal activities.
Now, employees have protections. They cannot sign away their right to disclose illegal activities in the workplace. This gives employees power in the workplace and out of the workplace that they did not previously have.