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New Employment Laws Post- #MeToo in California and New York

07 Jan New Employment Laws Post- #MeToo in California and New York

One of the biggest social movements of the past few years is the #MeToo movement, in which women and men have come forward with allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against powerful players across industries, most notably Harvey Weinstein.

As more and more stories started surfacing, it was revealed that many cases of misconduct had been covered up for years by Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), such as those utilized by Weinstein as well as Bill Cosby in order to avoid detection.

Companies paid thousands of dollars to women and men in exchange for substantial settlement agreements that barred these victims from telling anyone else and, in some case, even from testifying in criminal proceedings.

Lawmakers across the country, including California and New York, are now taking steps to prevent this practice. It is important for employers to understand their new compliance obligations when it comes to Non-Disclosure Agreements, as well as for employees to understand their rights under the new laws.

California’s #MeToo Laws

On January 1, 2019, a trio of laws went into effect:

Senate Bill 820 bans secret settlement agreements or NDAs in cases involving allegations of:

  • Sexual assault;
  • Harassment;
  • Retaliation; and/or
  • Discrimination

This law specifically bans agreements designed to prohibit disclosure of factual information.It applies to both public and private employees, and allows accusers to shield their names and other identifying information.

Additionally, Senate Bill 1300 prohibits employers from utilizing raises, bonuses, or continued employment as the means to require employees to sign Non-Disparagement Agreements, releasing employers from claims for sexual harassment.

Finally, Assembly Bill 2770 protects people from the threat of a defamation lawsuit when a sexual harassment allegation against an employer is “based on credible evidence” and without malice.

New York’s #MeToo Laws

New York State passed a series of #MeToo laws that went into effect in late 2018 that NPR called “the country’s most stringent workplace sexual harassment laws.”

Specifically, pursuant to New York Law CPLR 5003 and General Obligations Law 5-336, NDAs are prohibited, unless specifically requested by the employee in question. Employers have no authority to include any terms prohibiting disclosure, unless that is the preference of the employee and indicated as such in the written agreement.

The employee is also allowed a period of 21 days to consider whether or not to include the provision in the written agreement. If the employee decides to include the provision, he or she also has the ability to revoke the agreement within seven days, a provision that gives employees room to consider their options and change their minds.

Employers must also adopt anti-sexual harassment policies and conduct sexual harassment prevention training.

New York City passed additional laws in early 2018, requiring employers with 15 or more employees to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment training. All employers are also required to post anti-sexual harassment notices in the workplace.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. If you are interested in speaking with an employment lawyer regarding nondisclosure agreements or staying compliant with new state laws, contact Heerde Blum LLP by calling 213-770-5757 or 212-920-5858 or by filling out the online contact form.