Throughout 2017, we saw victims of sexual harassment become more empowered than ever before to come forward and tell their stories. But while many Americans begin to speak out and share their experiences, many more are legally prevented from doing so.
In most of these cases, the victims (who are, by and large, women) agree to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of sexual harassment case settlements. They get a monetary payment and sometimes positive references in their work, but are also legally required to say nothing more about the issue.
In the wake of all of the recent allegations that have toppled powerful figures in the worlds of media and entertainment, lawmakers across the United States are taking serious looks at banning the practice of NDAs as part of harassment settlements. State legislators in California and New Jersey are currently mulling over proposed laws that would prohibit companies from using such agreements.
However, there is reason to think the bills could actually hurt the women they intend to protect.
There is a straightforward argument for banning these agreements — powerful figures would no longer be able to legally gag victims who wish to come forward.
However, there are some down sides of banning NDAs. Many victims do not wish to go public, as it could actually result in further abuse. In most cases, the harasser is also not famous enough to merit press attention. For many people, the option to sign a NDA gives them the ability to quietly move on with their lives. It also makes a company more likely to settle and move on, as well.
By removing NDAs, companies that are worried about their image first and foremost would likely take cases to the courtroom more often, and these companies have many more resources on hand than the victims who would be filing the cases.
There are alternative solutions. Beyond banning NDAs, lawmakers could also prevent companies from filing for summary judgment in harassment cases, which would force them to go to a jury that would be sympathetic to the victim. Another option is to limit the powers of NDAs, so women are able to speak up and share stories after a certain length of time has passed, or to limit the number of NDAs a single accused harasser can use.
For more information on the steps you should take if you have been a victim of workplace harassment, meet with a knowledgeable Dallas whistleblower lawyer at Whistleblower Law for Managers.