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.
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.