Discipline & Termination

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

California has always kept employers on their toes when it comes to changing employment laws. This year is no exception. Here is our roundup of the top 10 developments California employers need to know. (And scroll down to see what’s on the horizon!)

  1. Minimum Wage Increases

Effective January 1, 2022, the California state minimum wage increased to $15.00 per hour ($14.00 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees). As a result, the minimum monthly salary for California exempt employees increased to $5,200, or $62,400 on an annual basis (which is two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment).

For computer software employees, their minimum hourly rate of pay increased to $50.00 and the minimum monthly salary increased to $8,679.16 ($104,149.81 annually).  And for licensed physicians and surgeons, the minimum hourly rate of pay increased to $91.07 .

Some counties and cities have imposed their own higher minimum wage rates, including Los Angeles, where a $15 minimum wage for all employers took effect in July 2021. The following local minimum wages took effect on January 1, 2022, regardless of employer size:

Continue Reading Top 10 California Employment Law Updates for 2022

A CEO who becomes entangled in human resources functions by terminating an employee in a distant locale could expose himself to personal jurisdiction (and personal liability) there, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently held in Urquhart-Bradley v. Mobley, No 19-7716 (D.C. Cir. June 30, 2020).

The message to executives is clear: a termination conversation could count as sufficient contacts for purposes of personal jurisdiction, even if the employee being terminated is in another state and even if the conversation itself was via telephone and not in person. In Urquhart-Bradley, a panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (Srinivasan, Chief Judge, Garland, and Millett, Circuit Judges) joined a list of courts that have refused to apply the “fiduciary shield” doctrine, which provides that a nonresident corporate agent generally is not individually subject to a court’s jurisdiction based on acts undertaken on behalf of the corporation. Where the fiduciary shield does not apply, employers are cautioned to leave termination conversations to HR or in-house counsel to keep executives from being haled into court in another jurisdiction.

Continue Reading Message From Courts To CEOs: Stay In Your Lane

On June 23, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to approve “right to reemployment” legislation that requires large employers to first offer laid-off workers their old jobs back before offering employment to new applicants (“Ordinance”). It will become effective immediately upon Mayor London Breed’s signature and will expire upon the 61st day following enactment unless extended.

Advocates of the Ordinance argued the requirement is necessary to ensure employers don’t use the pandemic as an opportunity to simply replace old workers with new employees who are younger and less expensive. Organizations lobbying against the Ordinance argued that it is overly burdensome; violates core constitutional principles; runs counter to several federal and state laws; and is extremely vulnerable to abuse. Similar legislation has surfaced in Los Angeles County as well.

Covered Employers

“Covered employers” are defined as for-profit and non-profit employers that directly or indirectly own or operate a business in the City or County of San Francisco and employ, or have employed, 100 or more employees on or after February 25, 2020.

Continue Reading San Francisco Provides Temporary Right to Reemployment Following Layoff Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

In the wake of the global pandemic, many companies need to take quick action to reduce costs. This 40 minute webinar, co-hosted by the ACC Southern California Chapter, outlines the various cost-cutting strategies available to employers in the US, and walk participants through the major considerations necessary to minimize legal risk. Our speakers discuss how

Unfortunately, the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing employers to implement a range of cost-cutting measures — furloughs, temporary office and location closings, and layoffs. As employers continue to adjust operations during these extraordinary times, it is essential to remember the notice obligation under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN,

Last week, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a comprehensive breakdown of the workplace discrimination charges received in 2019. The report shows that fiscal year 2019 continued the trend of declining numbers of pending charges. Interestingly, the number of charges filed in 2019 is the lowest intake in any fiscal year since at least 1997. While there may be any number of explanations for the decrease, one possibility is that employees are turning to expanding state anti-discrimination laws and more active state administrative agencies rather than the EEOC.

Continue Reading While EEOC Report Shows Overall Decrease In Charges, Retaliation Continues To Be Top Charge

We are pleased to share a recent SHRM article, “Prepare for Talks with Canadian Employment Insurance Officers,” with insight from our Toronto colleague Claire-Marie Colantuoni. This article discusses how and why HR professionals and employers in Canada need to navigate the country’s employment insurance (EL) program after terminating employees.

Click here to view the

[With special thanks to our summer associate Lennox Mark for his contribution to this post.]

Since 2000, June has been LGBTQ Pride Month in the United States. “Pride” as it has come to be known started as a way to commemorate the Stonewall riots that occurred at the end of June in 1969. It has since morphed into a month-long celebration of inclusiveness and remembrance of the struggles faced by members of this community. Many other countries and cities around the world honor and celebrate the LGBTQ community at different times throughout the year.

As we look back at the events of the last month and in honor of continuing the conversation around US Pride, we review some of the recent strides made for equality and other potentially impactful legal developments for the LGBTQ community, including those that US and OUS employers should know about.

Continue Reading Advancing LGBTQ Rights At Home And Abroad

While the benefits of arbitration clauses in employment documents with US employees are highly publicized and well known, arbitration clauses with employees outside of the US (OUS) are much less prevalent due to enforceability issues and administrative hurdles.

Unlike in the US, where arbitration can often be quicker, limit opportunities for appeal, and affords greater confidentiality, this is not always the case OUS.


Continue Reading Arbitration of Employment Claims Globally