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On March 24, 2022, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1795, also known as the Silenced No More Act, which expands worker protection in Washington State. More specifically, it prohibits employers from requiring or requesting that workers sign agreements containing nondisclosure or non-disparagement provisions restricting their right to discuss factual information regarding illegal discrimination, harassment, sexual assault, retaliation, wage and hour violations, or any other conduct “that is recognized as against a clear mandate of public policy.”  Washington State’s Silenced No More Act will go into effect on June 9, 2022.

While other states such as California, New York, and Illinois have enacted similar NDA-narrowing laws covering different forms of employment discrimination, Washington’s new law is arguably the most restrictive. For instance, New York, California, and Illinois prohibit nondisclosure provisions related to unlawful discrimination in settlement agreements unless an employee wants such confidentiality. Washington State, however, takes it a step further by barring confidentiality clauses even if requested by the employee (as defined by the Act). As another example, New York law still permits nondisclosure clauses in pre-employment and severance agreements, but Washington’s law applies broadly to any agreement between the employer and “employee” as defined in the Act, including independent contractors not typically protected by EEO laws.

While Washington is the most recent state to pass a law on this subject, it may not be the last. The movement to prohibit secrecy covenants is gaining traction as workers’ advocates push for legislation at both the state and federal level banning the use of such covenants.

Prohibited Agreements

The newly-added section to Chapter 49.44 of the Revised Code of Washington provides that “a provision in an agreement between an employer and employee not to disclose or discuss conduct, or the existence of a settlement involving conduct, that the employee reasonably believed to be illegal discrimination, illegal harassment, illegal retaliation, a wage and hour violation, sexual assault, or against a clear mandate of public policy is void and unenforceable.” The Act broadly defines “employee” to include current, former, and prospective employees, as well as independent contractors; and encompasses all work-related conduct, whether occurring in the workplace or off-site.

Continue Reading Washington State Takes Aim At Workplace NDAs Under Its Silenced No More Act

We are pleased to share a recent Bloomberg Law article, “How Employers Can Keep ‘Me Too’ Evidence From the Jury,” which provides guidance for employers to keep “me too” evidence—not to be confused with the #MeToo movement—out of trial. This evidence, which is from parties not involved in the litigation, can taint the jury and

Wary of wage and hour class actions, many employers have been grappling with whether and how to compensate employees for activities related to COVID-19. After nearly two years of guessing, on January 20, 2022, the US Department of Labor (DOL) posted Fact Sheet #84, “Compensability of Time Spent Undergoing COVID-19 Health Screenings, Testing, and Vaccinations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA),” on its website. The next day, and with no explanation, Fact Sheet #84 disappeared.

Before it disappeared, Fact Sheet #84 addressed the compensability of time spent undergoing those COVID-19 activities with reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (the OSHA ETS). Given that the OSHA ETS had been stayed just a week earlier by the US Supreme Court and then was subsequently withdrawn by OSHA on January 26, Fact Sheet #84’s sudden disappearance is perhaps not surprising. Nevertheless, employers should keep their eyes peeled for an updated Fact Sheet #84 that addresses compensability of testing and vaccination time without references to the OSHA ETS, especially since the advice in the now withdrawn Fact Sheet #84 is in line with other prior DOL advice on compensable time for employer-required testing and medical procedures under the FLSA.

What Fact Sheet #84 Said Before It Was Withdrawn

The guidance in Fact Sheet #84 distinguished between testing and vaccination that occurs during regular work hours and after regular hours:

Activities that occur during normal working hours

  • Under the FLSA, employer-required activities during normal working hours are compensable, unless the activity falls within one of the exceptions stated in 29 C.F.R. Part 785 (e.g., bona fide meal breaks and off-duty time).
  • Employees must be paid for time they spend going to, waiting for, and receiving medical attention required by the employer or on the employer’s premises during normal working hours-including COVID-19 related medical attention. Therefore, if an employer requires an employee to engage in COVID-19 activities (such as receiving a COVID-19 vaccine dose, taking a COVID-19 test, or undergoing a COVID-19 health screening or temperature check) during the employee’s normal working hours, the time is compensable time-regardless of where the activity occurs.


Continue Reading Compensability of COVID-related Activities | The DOL May Have Weighed In to Help Employers Avoid Class Actions

Illinois employers have been waiting for answers on two important questions regarding the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA):

  1. Whether the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (the Compensation Act) preempts BIPA statutory damages, and
  2. Whether BIPA claims accrue each time a person’s biometric information is scanned or transmitted without informed consent–or just the first time.

The

Illinois employers have a plethora of new laws to keep up with for 2022. From new Chicago and Cook County patron vaccination orders, to new laws limiting restrictive covenants, to pay data reporting (and more!), new Illinois laws are certain to make for a busy 2022 for Illinois employers. Here are 10 changes employers should know now as we get the ball rolling in 2022.

  1. Chicago and Cook County Vaccination Orders Require Some Employers to Check Vaccination Status of Employees and Require Testing for Unvaccinated Employees

Employers at restaurants, bars, gyms, and other establishments in Chicago and Cook County have already started scrambling to implement patron vaccination requirements–and requirements that they obtain the vaccination status of their employees and require weekly testing for employees who aren’t fully vaccinated. As of January 3, 2022, Mayor Lightfoot’s Public Health Order 2021-2 and the Cook County Department of Public Health’s Public Health Order 2021-11  took effect. Under the Orders, covered businesses (including establishments where food and beverages are served, gyms and fitness venues, and entertainment and recreation venues in areas where food and beverages are served) must:

  • Turn away patrons age 5 and over entering the indoor portion of an establishment unless they show a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card or an official immunization record (or a photo of the same) from the jurisdiction, state, or country where the vaccine was administered, reflecting the person’s name, vaccine brand, the date(s) administered and full vaccination status (two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). There are certain narrow exceptions, such as allowing individuals inside for 10 minutes or less to carry out food or use the bathroom
  • Post signage informing patrons of the vaccination requirement
  • Develop and maintain a written record of the protocol for implementing and enforcing the Orders’ requirements

While covered businesses that are employers do not have to require employees to be vaccinated, they must:

  • determine the vaccination status of each employee by requiring each vaccinated employee to provide acceptable proof of vaccination status (including whether the employee is fully or partially vaccinated), and maintain a record of each employee’s vaccination status; and
  • require COVID-19 testing for employees who are not fully vaccinated. Employees who are not fully vaccinated and who report at least once every 7 days to a workplace where there are others present must be tested for COVID-19 at least once every 7 days and must provide documentation of the most recent COVID-19 test result to their employer no later than the 7thday following the date on which the employee last provided a test result.

Employers with 100 or more employees must also comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard (OSHA ETS), at least for now. The US Supreme Court heard oral argument on whether to block the ETS at a special January 7 session, but until the Supreme Court issues its ruling, the ETS stands, requiring employers with at least 100 employees to implement and enforce a policy that mandates employees to be fully vaccinated or to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing and mask-wearing. For more on the Chicago and Cook County Orders and the OSHA ETS, see our blog here.

Continue Reading Illinois Employers: Ten Top Developments for 2022

Special thanks to Brian Wydajewski, Narendra Acharya, Aimee Soodan, Tulsi Karamchandani, Scott McMillen, Angelique Poret-Kahn, Ginger Partee, John Foerster and Matthew Gorman.

Our two-part webinar series, co-hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel – Chicago Chapter, is designed to ensure that Midwest in-house counsel are up to

What’s scarier than Halloween? For Illinois employers, it could be that they now have only approximately two months to prepare for Illinois’ new limits on employee restrictive covenants. On August 13, 2021, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill (SB) 672 (now Public Act 102-0358) into law, imposing new conditions on employers’ use of noncompete agreements and nonsolicitation agreements in Illinois. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2022, with Illinois joining the tide of states (as well as the federal government–see our blog on President Biden’s recent Executive Order addressing restrictive covenants here) cracking down on employers’ use of restrictive covenants.

Here’s what Illinois employers need to know now.

Employers have a couple of months to prepare–and don’t need to look back at prior agreements

The Act is effective for any contract entered into after January 1, 2022, and does not apply retroactively. Therefore, employers will not be required to inventory and assess agreements signed prior to the Act’s effective date.

Noncompete agreements banned for employees making $75,000 per year or less

The Act does not ban noncompetes for all Illinois employees, but instead for those making $75,000 per year in earnings or less. This salary threshold will increase by $5,000 every five years until it reaches $90,000 in 2037.

“Earnings” includes what employers might expect: earned salary, earned bonuses, earned commissions, or any other form of compensation reported on an employee’s IRS Form W-2.

Continue Reading Don’t Get Spooked By the New Restrictions on Restrictive Covenants in Illinois

Special thanks to guest contributors: Jeff Martino and Katelyn Sprague.

Baker McKenzie’s Labor and Employment, Trade Secrets and Antitrust lawyers explore the impact on employers of the severe limitations on post-employment noncompete restrictions outlined in President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy and the supporting Fact Sheet.

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Special thanks to Jeffrey Martino and Bradford Newman for their contributions to this post.

On July 9, 2021, President Biden issued his Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy (EO) (Fact Sheet here) signaling support for severe limitation of post-employment noncompete restrictions–a move likely to add fuel to the fire of states passing laws to limit the use of post-employment noncompetes. The EO Fact Sheet states that the banning or limiting of noncompetes will “[m]ake it easier” for employees to “change jobs[.]” Though employers may balk, given Biden’s campaign promises and support for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (see our prior blog here), employers should not be surprised.

The EO encourages the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to exercise the FTC’s statutory rulemaking authority to “curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.” It is uncertain whether that rulemaking will entirely ban or just limit noncompete agreements; focus on restricting noncompetes for all workers or just those considered more vulnerable (such as low wage earners); restrict nonsolicit agreements along with noncompetes; or preempt state law.

The EO also encourages the Attorney General and the Chair of the FTC to consider revising the October 2016 Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals “to better protect workers from wage collusion” by (as the Fact Sheet explains) strengthening antitrust guidance to prevent the suppression of wages or reduction of benefits through employer collaboration and sharing of wage and benefit information. As we explained in a recent client alert, a push to scrutinize competition issues in labor markets was already in play, tracing back to the 2016 Antitrust Guidance, in which the Department of Justice and FTC alerted companies that “naked” wage-fixing and no-poaching agreements could be prosecuted criminally, and that employers competing to hire or retain the same employees are “competitors” from an antitrust perspective.

Continue Reading Goodbye to Employer Protections? Biden Issues Executive Order Encouraging Curtailing of Post-employment Noncompetes