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 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

New state and federal limits on post-employment restrictive covenants mean employers must stay on top of more than just vaccination policies or the logistics of office reopenings. The swath of new and on-the-horizon legislation aimed at limiting the enforceability of post-employment non-compete agreements deserves employers’ attention too. Part One of our blog post series on restrictive covenants addressed the intersection of remote work and state non-compete laws. Now, in Part Two, we summarize recent updates to state non-compete laws, pending state legislation that could impact non-competes, and new federal-level activity aimed at limiting non-competes.

State Updates

  • Colorado

Colorado recently raised the stakes for violations of its non-compete law. Effective March 1, 2022, under SB 21-271, a person who violates Colorado’s non-compete statute commits a class 2 misdemeanor.

Colorado’s non-compete statute (C.R.S. section 8-2-113) voids agreements that restrict trade, such as non-competition and non-solicitation of customers covenants, unless they fall within a specific statutory exception: (i) a contract for the purchase or sale of a business or its assets; (ii) a contract for protecting trade secrets; (iii) a contract provision recovering education or training expenses associated with an employee who has been with an employer for less than two years; or (iv) a restriction on executive or management personnel or each of their professional staff. As of March 1, 2022, a person who violates this statute commits a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail and / or a fine of up to $750.

Many questions remain about the enforcement of this amendment, such as who will face ultimate liability for the employer (e.g., in-house counsel, HR staff, line managers, etc.). And though there is no indication that the new law is retroactive, Colorado employers were subject to criminal penalties for a violation of Colorado’s non-compete law even prior to SB 21-271 being passed, under C.R.S. section 8-2-115. SB 21-271 repealed C.R.S. section 8-2-115 while simultaneously inserting language into the non-compete statute itself making a violation a class 2 misdemeanor. It remains to be seen whether this is simple statutory consolidation, or a signal that Colorado plans to increase enforcement of violations of its non-compete statute. Employers should review their non-compete agreements and internal policies regarding which employees are required to sign such agreements to make sure they are in compliance with this new law.

Continue Reading The Only Constant is Change: Recent (and Potential) Changes in State and Federal Non-Compete Legislation

The writing is on the wall: remote work is here to stay. According to data collected by Ladders, three million professional jobs in the US went permanently remote in the fourth quarter 2021 alone. By the end of 2021, 18 percent of all professional jobs in the US were remote. Ladders projects that number will be close to 25 percent by the end of 2022. Of course, this leaves employment lawyers and HR professionals wondering — what employment laws apply to our distributed workforce?

One particularly thorny issue facing employers in this context is the permissibility of post-termination non-competition agreements. Non-compete laws and their requirements differ greatly from state to state. For example, in Illinois, one of the requirements is that the employee must earn at least $75,000 annually in order to enter into an enforceable post-termination non-compete, but in Oregon, that minimum annual income threshold increases to $100,533 — and that same employee would be subject to no income threshold if Missouri law applied. On the other hand, in Colorado, where post-termination non-competes are generally unlawful, the employer could soon face misdemeanor criminal liability for seeking to enforce an unlawful post-termination non-compete against any employee, and in California, the employer could be exposed to compensatory and punitive damages if a claim is accompanied by other deemed tortious conduct (e.g., interference with the employee’s future employment prospects by seeking to enforce the unlawful agreement).

In this post, we analyze how remote work further muddles the already complicated landscape of post-termination non-competes and how employers can best navigate this complex backdrop.

What law applies? Guidance from recent case law

One issue arising out of remote work is knowing what state’s law will apply when it comes to the enforceability of non-compete restrictions. With remote work, long gone are the days where an employer can be relatively certain that the state where an employee is located at the beginning of the employment relationship will be the same state that employee is living and working in at the end of the employment relationship. As a result, when the need to enforce non-compete restrictions arises, the parties may dispute what state’s law should apply to the non-compete (e.g., the state where the employee was located when they entered into the contract, the state where the employee began work for the employer, or the state whether the employee was living or working at the end of the employment relationship).

Continue Reading Navigating The Intersection Of Remote Work And State-Specific Post-Termination Non-Compete Laws

On March 3, President Biden signed the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act,” H.R. 4445, into law. The landmark legislation allows a plaintiff to elect not to arbitrate covered disputes of sexual assault or sexual harassment. To understand the implications of the new law, click here.

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)?

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

Pressure is mounting on U.S. and multinational employers to require COVID-19 vaccines for employees, as the Delta variant spreads voraciously, spiking infections and hospitalizations across the country and forcing employers to once again shutter worksites or change their workplace safety protocols. But can (and should) employers mandate vaccination?

Vaccine mandates received strong support on Thursday, July 29 when President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees and onsite contractors either must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements, and restrictions on travel. The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department released a policy statement directing state and local governments to use funds from the $350 billion American Rescue Plan to incentivize vaccines by offering $100 to individuals who get vaccinated.

Separately, more than 600 universities have announced mandates for students or employees. And state and local governments have joined in, with California and New York City announcing mandates this week for government employees and certain healthcare workers, and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs announcing that frontline VA health care employees must get vaccinated or face termination.

Large employers are joining the fray, with global technology companies, financial institutions, healthcare systems, retailers, transportation companies and media companies recently announcing that vaccination will be required for everyone in their workplaces.

So can private employers adopt mandatory vaccination policies? What follows is a framework for understanding whether such an approach is permissible both in and outside the US, as well as some of the key considerations for such policies.

Bottom line: in the US, private employers can legally mandate vaccines under federal law, subject to the legal considerations outlined below. State law, however, differs by jurisdiction, with some states authorizing vaccine mandates while at least one has banned them.  For illustrative purposes, we discuss California law in the framework below.


Continue Reading Mandating COVID-19 Vaccination? Before You Act, Consider These Key Issues For US and Multinational Employers

A proposed bill in California seeks to protect workers against nondisclosure agreements and empower them to speak out about alleged acts of discrimination, including racism. Senate Bill 331, known as the Silenced No More Act, was introduced in February 2021 and seeks to expand protections against confidential settlements to cover all forms of harassment or discrimination under California law, including on the basis of race, ancestry, religion or gender identity. If passed, the law will impose greater restrictions on companies’ freedom to contract settlement and non-disparagement agreements.

New Obligations if SB 331 Passes

  1. SB 331 will expand the existing prohibition of provisions that prohibit discussing sexual harassment in the workplace to discussing any type of harassment (i.e., race, age, religious harassment). (See discussion of SB 820 below.)
  2. The law will prohibit non-disparagement agreements that prohibit the disclosure of information about unlawful acts in the workplace.
  3. The law also will create new obligations, such as the requirement to notify the employee that the employee has a right to consult an attorney regarding the agreement and giving the employee “a reasonable time period of not less than five business days” in which to do so.

Several Employer-Friendly Changes to Observe

  1. The law clarifies that including a general release or waiver of all claims in an agreement related to an employee’s separation from employment does not violate the statute.
  2. It verifies that the law does not prohibit a provision that precludes the disclosure of the amount paid in settlement of a claim.
  3. It confirms that employers may protect trade secrets, proprietary information, or confidential information that does not involve unlawful acts in the workplace.


Continue Reading #MeToo 2.0: New California Bill Proposes Greater Restrictions on Confidentiality and Non-Disparagement Agreements

For a company to effectively expand its global footprint, it’s almost always necessary to engage workers on the ground. The legal risks and opportunities in structuring these relationships differ significantly around the world, and the complexity is further compounded by the intersection with other areas of law, including tax, corporate, intellectual property and employment, to