How the Speak Out Act Affects Employment Contracts and Severance Agreements

President Joe Biden signed the Speak Out Act into law in December 2022. This law renders unenforceable nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses in employment contracts and severance agreements, regarding allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Here’s what that means for employees.

How the Speak Out Act affects your workplace agreements

If you’ve signed a nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreement at work—whether in your employment contract or in severance agreements—those clauses are no longer legally enforceable with respect to allegations of sexually-related workplace misconduct. For example, if you signed a non-disclosure agreement at your job, then suffered sexual harassment or assault at work, the clauses can no longer prevent you from speaking out about what happened.

The Speak Out Act only affects pre-dispute clauses, which means clauses signed before a dispute has arisen. In other words, any employers settling sexually-related workplace misconduct can still negotiate to include these clauses in settlement agreements.

Keep in mind that the law still allows employers to use nondisclosure clauses to protect trade secrets and other proprietary information. It is only the clauses protecting disclosure of sexually-related misconduct which are no longer enforceable. Employees cannot be prohibited from disclosing or talking about “conduct relating to alleged sexual assault or harassment; the existence of a settlement involving such conduct; or information covered by the terms and conditions of the contract.”

Finally, the law does not define “proprietary information,” leaving interpretation open. An employer could ostensibly claim that some employee subsets, such as HR workers, can be prohibited from discussing claims regarding sexual misconduct.

Ultimately, this is good news for victims of workplace sexual misconduct who were previously prohibited from speaking out. If your nondisclosure or non-disparagement clause was signed before your sexual misconduct claim arose, an experienced whistleblower attorney at Kardell Law Group can help. Contact us today to get started.