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Nondisparagement clauses have long been a staple in settlement agreements between employers and employees as a way to discourage disgruntled employees from debasing the company after they have departed. Nondisparagement clauses often require employees to refrain from saying anything negative about their former employer at all. But employers should keep a few things in mind to ensure that the use of a nondisparagement clause does not create additional risk for the company.

  1. Keep an Eye Out for Activity by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

The NLRB has signaled it may revisit current Board precedent holding nondisparagement agreements in employee settlement agreements are legal-meaning employers should watch out for Board action or decisions reverting to restrictions on nondisparagement agreements. On August 12, 2021, in her first memo as NLRB General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo issued a Mandatory Submissions to Advice Memorandum, setting forth that NLRB Regional Directors, Officers-in-Charge, and Resident Officers must submit certain types of cases to the NLRB Division of Advice (“Advice”) (which, in addition to other duties, provides guidance to the NLRB’s Regional Offices regarding difficult and novel issues arising in the processing of unfair labor practice charges).

Abruzzo identified 11 areas of Board case law involving doctrinal shifts from previous Board precedent that the Board, through submissions to Advice, would be examining-including “cases finding that separation agreements that contain…nondisparagement clauses…lawful.”

Abruzzo highlighted cases involving the applicability of Baylor University Medical Center, 369 NLRB No. 43 (2020), overruling Clark Distribution Systems, 336 NLRB 747 (2001), and International Game Technology, 370 NLRB No. 50 (2020) to be submitted to Advice for review.

Before it was overruled, Clark Distribution Systems stated that a provision in the confidentiality clause of a severance agreement prohibiting the employee from voluntarily appearing as a witness, voluntarily providing documents or information, or otherwise assisting in the prosecution of any claims against the company unlawfully chilled the employees’ Section 7 rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)(which guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” as well as the right “to refrain from any or all such activities.”)

The provisions at issue in the severance agreements in Baylor University Medical Center included a “No Participation in Claims” provision in which the departing employee agreed not to assist or participate in any claim brought by a third party against Baylor (unless compelled by law to do so), and a “Confidentiality” provision in which the employee agreed to keep confidential any of Baylor’s confidential information made known to the employee during their employment. The complainants alleged that by offering the severance agreements with these provisions, Baylor violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA (which makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7” of the Act). The Board disagreed, in part because the severance agreement only pertained to postemployment activities having no impact on terms and conditions of employment. The Board also found that Baylor’s mere offer of the separation agreement was not coercive or otherwise unlawful, and that there was no sign that the agreement was offered under circumstances that would tend to infringe on the separating employees’ exercise of their own or their co-workers’ Section 7 rights.

International Game Technology (IGT) applied Baylor to a separation agreement with a nondisparagement clause,  finding in that case that the severance agreement at issue was entirely voluntary, did not affect pay or benefits that were established as terms of employment, and was not offered coercively-and the nondisparagement provision did not tend to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights under the Act.

What to do?

What should employers do now given the NLRB review of cases applying Baylor and International Game Technology to ensure they don’t run afoul of the NLRA when using nondisparagement clauses in settlement agreements with employees? Employers should:

  • Keep an eye out for changes in the law stemming from the NLRB’s review of cases applying Baylor and International Game Technology.
  • Use precise language to make it clear that a nondisparagement clause only applies at the time of and after termination, to avoid claims that the terms of the clause interfere with an employee’s Section 7 rights under the NLRA.
  • Consult with counsel regarding the possibility of using a savings clause stating that the severance agreement, and specifically the nondisparagement clause, are not intended to prevent the employee from engaging in protected activity under the NLRA.


Continue Reading “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…” Keep These Tips in Mind When Using Nondisparagement Clauses in Settlement Agreements with Employees

On April 1, a state court judge in Los Angeles ruled that the California law (AB 979) mandating publicly traded companies include people from underrepresented communities on their boards violates the California Constitution. We initially reported on AB 979 here, noting that it was the first law of its kind in the US and was the second time California sought to mandate diversification of public company boards through legislation. In 2018, the first piece of California legislation (SB 826) aimed at increasing gender diversity; in 2020, AB 979 sought to increase diversity from underrepresented communities.

AB 979

The 2020 law requires publicly held corporations headquartered in California to include at least one person on their boards from an underrepresented community by the end of last year, with additional appointments required in future years. People from underrepresented communities are defined as anyone who self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Under AB 979, the California Secretary of State must report annually on companies’ compliance with the law and may impose fines of $100,000 for an initial violation and $300,000 for each subsequent violation.

Continue Reading California’s Board Diversity Law Struck Down in State Court, But Movement for Inclusion and Diversity on Boards Persists

Many thanks to our Franchise, Distribution & Global Brand Expansion  colleagues Abhishek Dubé, Kevin Maher, and Will Woods for co-authoring this post.

Massachusetts’ independent contractor statute applies to the franchisor-franchisee relationship and is not in conflict with the franchisor’s disclosure obligations under the FTC Franchise Rule (the “FTC Rule”), according to

With special thanks to our data privacy colleague Helena Engfeldt for her contributions.


 On February 17, 2022, California Senator Bob Wieckowski introduced a bill (SB 1189) that would add protections for biometric information and establish a private right of action permitting individuals to allege a violation of the law and bring a civil action. The legislation is similar to the Biometric Information Privacy Act in Illinois (BIPA) which is creating expensive headaches for Illinois employers. (Read about the latest BIPA developments here.) If enacted, the law will cover all employers that use biometric time-keeping systems in California. Many employers would have to navigate the law alongside other California privacy laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Here’s what employers need to know about SB 1189:

Covered employers?

The bill would apply to any private entity regardless of size. “Private entity” is defined as an individual, partnership, corporation, limited liability company, association, or similar group, however organized.

How does the bill define biometric information?
  • A person’s physiological, biological, or behavioral characteristics, including information pertaining to an individual’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), that can be used or is intended to be used, singly or in combination with each other or with other identifying data, to establish individual identity;
  • It includes, but is not limited to, imagery of the iris, retina, fingerprint, face, hand, palm, vein patterns, and voice recordings, from which an identifier template, such as a faceprint, a minutiae template, or a voiceprint, can be extracted, and keystroke patterns or rhythms, gait patterns or rhythms, and sleep, health, or exercise data that contain identifying information.


Continue Reading Biometric Protections May Be Coming to California Soon | Employers Should Get Ahead Now

Actions under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) have long plagued employers, both large and small, but that all may change this year.

What is PAGA?

PAGA, enacted in 2004, permits a single employee to stand in the shoes of the state’s Attorney General and file suit on behalf of other “aggrieved” employees to recover penalties for California Labor Code violations. The potential recovery against employers can be substantial, with default penalties calculated as $100 “for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation,” and $200 per aggrieved employer per pay period for “each subsequent violation.” As such, potential PAGA awards commonly reach millions of dollars against small employers, and tens of millions against large employers, just for simple administrative oversights.

In addition to the potential for steep penalties, several California court decisions have expanded the reach of PAGA over the years. In 2009, the California Supreme Court held that employees bringing actions under PAGA need not comply with the strict procedural rules governing class actions. See Arias v. Superior Court, 46 Cal. 4th 969 (2009). Then, in 2014, the California Supreme Court held that employees could not waive their right to bring PAGA claims in court, paving the way for an increase in PAGA litigation. See Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014).

Recently, California courts have provided some limits to the expansion of PAGA. In 2021, the California Court of Appeals provided a potential “manageability” defense for employers.  Specifically, in Wesson v. Staples The Office Superstore, LLC, the Court of Appeals held that trial courts have the discretion to strike claims for penalties under PAGA if the claims will be unmanageable due to individualized issues at trial. See 68 Cal. App. 5th 746 (2021).

Is there an end in sight?

However, the fate of PAGA may rest in the hands of California voters this year. In December 2021, California’s Secretary of State approved the distribution of a petition to put an initiative on the 2022 ballot called “the California Fair Pay and Accountability Act.” The California Fair Pay and Accountability Act aims to essentially repeal PAGA, and replace it with an alternative framework for the enforcement of labor laws.

Continue Reading California Employers: An End To California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA)?

We are pleased to share a recent Washington Post article, “Ask Help Desk: What should I do when my job gives me lousy tech?” with quotes from Mike Brewer. We’ve all been there or at least know someone who has: You land that coveted job only to get handed disappointing — and maybe even outdated

We are pleased to share a recent Bloomberg Law article, “Gig Economy Companies Brace for Crucial Year as Challenges Mount,” with commentary from Mike Brewer. The article discusses the gig economy facing another year of upheaval as the Biden administration eyes actions to address worker rights, court battles continuing to play out across the country,

To mitigate against a 47% increase in the seven-day average COVID-19 case rate and a 14% increase in hospitalizations, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the return of an indoor mask mandate — which will apply irrespective of vaccine status in many locations — starting December 15 and lasting until January 15. California is implementing this change because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and increased travel and mixing of households during the holiday season.

So, just as things were starting to relax a bit in some parts of the state, the California Department of Public Health mask mandate once again tightens up face covering requirements for California employers. What do California employers need to know now?

Who & Where: A number of California counties — including Los Angeles, Ventura, Sacramento, and most of the San Francisco Bay Area – already have their own indoor mask mandates that were implemented in the summer and have no end dates. The new mandate does not supersede these existing orders, and thus will primarily change things for employers in San Diego County, Orange County, the Inland Empire, swaths of the Central Valley, and rural Northern California.

What & When: California employers must comply with the new order by requiring both employees and customers to wear masks in all indoor public settings, irrespective of vaccine status, from December 15, 2021 to January 15, 2021.

In addition to masking, the state will now require those without proof of vaccination attending events with more than 1,000 people to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day. The previous guidelines required a test within 72 hours. The state will also recommend those who travel in or out of California get tested for COVID-19 within three to five days.

What else are employers asking?

Some employers have questioned whether the mandate covers office settings where workers are 100% vaccinated. The answer is: “it depends.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the CDPH clarified that the new indoor mask mandate only applies to local jurisdictions that do not already have an existing mask requirement in place as of December 13, 2021. Thus, for example, because San Francisco already has an indoor mask mandate that allows stable cohorts of 100% vaccinated people to forego masks in indoor settings like workspaces and gyms, the CDPH clarification enables employers in San Francisco to continue allowing their fully vaccinated stable cohorts to go without masks if they otherwise meet the requirements of the San Francisco health order. (In the Bay Area, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma counties have adopted similar exemptions and thus the same analysis applies.) Note that some counties and cities with mask mandates do not permit vaccinated persons to forgo masks indoors, and in such locations, the local order applies, but vaccinated employees must still wear masks.

Continue Reading Breaking News – Mask Up California! New Statewide Mandate Effective December 15

Special thanks to Melissa Allchin and Lothar Determann.

Our California Employer Update webinar is designed to ensure that California in-house counsel are up to speed on the top employment law developments of 2021 and are prepared for what’s on the horizon in 2022.

With our “quick hits” format, we provide a content-rich presentation complete