At the end of 2018, a report from a committee of the UK parliament called on employers and regulators to take a more proactive role in relation to sexual harassment in the workplace, including in relation to the use of confidentiality (non-disclosure) agreements.

In its recent response to that inquiry, the government has set out its ‘measures to prevent the misuse of confidentiality clauses in situations of workplace harassment or discrimination’. This response, together with the launch of its consultation on tackling the wider issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, reflects the UK’s continued focus on the issue of workplace harassment.

Confidentiality clauses tend to be drafted into contracts of employment and settlement agreements. They are provisions in those contracts which seek to prohibit the disclosure of information. While recognising that confidentiality clauses serve as a useful and legitimate mechanism both during the course of and after employment (for example, to prevent employees from sharing company proprietary information with competitors), the UK government has made it clear that they should not be used to ‘gag’ and intimidate victims of workplace harassment and/or discrimination. The government has confirmed that, when parliamentary time allows, it will provide guidance on drafting requirements for confidentiality clauses and legislate to, in summary:

Continue Reading UK government consultation: UK to legislate on use of confidentiality (non-disclosure) agreements in the workplace

Today is the last in a five-part blog series on New York’s sweeping changes to the legal landscape for Empire State employers. In prior posts, we covered limitations on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement and separation agreements, the new standards for litigating and defending harassment claims, expanded equal pay protections, and the statewide ban on salary history inquiries. Today, we will explore the remaining changes to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. All of the changes discussed in this article will take effect 60 days after Governor Cuomo signs the Bill, unless otherwise noted:

Expanding Protections to More Employers and More Workers

All New York employers will now be subject to the state’s anti-discrimination law, regardless of size. Under the prior incarnation of the law, employers with fewer than four employees were excluded from coverage (except for sexual harassment claims). Now, every single employee and employer in New York will be covered by these protections. This change will take place 180 days after enactment.

In addition, non-employees – such as independent contractors, vendors, and consultants (and their employees) – will now be entitled to the protections afforded by the state’s anti-discrimination law. This expands on a 2018 law that afforded such protections to non-employees asserting claims of sexual harassment. In addition, the law will also now protect domestic workers from all forms of harassment.Continue Reading New York Lawmakers Upend the Employment Law Landscape…Again (Part 5)

Late last week, New York legislators passed a series of sweeping changes to the state’s employment laws. These drastic changes come on the heels of landmark legislation enacted just last year – in April 2018 – aimed at curbing workplace sexual harassment. This year’s laws, which are in part a further response to the #MeToo movement, will impact settlement and separation agreements, litigation of harassment and discrimination claims, hiring practices, and pay policies for employers operating everywhere from Montauk to Buffalo. We will address the myriad of new laws – and how they will affect your business – in this five-part series.

To start, much of the discussion surrounding the new laws has focused – and understandably so – on the lowered legal standard for proving workplace harassment claims. While we will cover this topic in tomorrow’s post, there is another new change that will likely have a greater impact for Empire State businesses on a day-to-day basis: namely, the severe curtailment on the use of nondisclosure provisions in agreements resolving claims of unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.Continue Reading New York Lawmakers Upend the Employment Law Landscape…Again (Part 1)

As we previously reported, on October 9, 2018, two landmark New York State laws concerning sexual harassment prevention take effect. These laws require that all Empire State employers:

  • Implement a written sexual harassment prevention policy that meets or exceeds the content of a model sexual harassment prevention policy prepared by State regulators, and

With a few minor tweaks here and there, your company has probably relied on the same severance and employment-related settlement agreements for years. Sure, you touch base with your friendly neighborhood employment lawyer from time to time to ensure there haven’t been any significant legal developments that necessitate revisions. But aside from peripheral alterations, these agreements have, by and large, retained their same basic form and content.

Among the most important terms of your company’s “form” severance and settlement agreements is the confidentiality clause. This provision protects your business from the public disclosure of potentially damaging allegations of workplace wrongdoing. This is particularly important when the asserted allegations exaggerate or skew the facts or are flat out spurious. Or when the alleged misconduct was perpetrated by a rogue manager, unbeknownst to management. Regardless of the reason, the confidentiality clause is of paramount importance. In fact, outside of the employee’s release of claims, your company – like so many others – considers this clause to be the seminal term of the agreement. Without it, your company might be far more hesitant, if not outright unwilling, to enter into potentially costly severance and settlement arrangements with current and former employees.

Two recently enacted laws – one at the federal level and one spurred by New York legislators – threaten to topple the long-standing use of confidentiality clauses in severance and settlement agreements, at least in cases involving sexual harassment. Below, we discuss each of these laws, as well as how you and your company can navigate the proverbial minefield of recent nondisclosure-related legislation.Continue Reading Are confidentiality clauses about to become a relic in sexual harassment cases?

Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the State’s Budget Bill for fiscal year 2018-19. Astute employers may recall that the Budget Bill has in the past been the Governor’s preferred mechanism for enacting sweeping employment law reforms. For example, the 2016-17 Budget Bill included provisions that will ultimately increase the statewide minimum wage to $15/hour by 2021. The 2016-17 Bill also laid the groundwork for the State’s paid family leave law, which took effect on January 1 of this year.

In this year’s Budget Bill, the Governor pivoted his attention to the recent groundswell of high-profile sexual harassment allegations. Indeed, as we previously reported, the Budget Bill imposes a myriad of new obligations and restrictions intended to remedy sexual harassment in the workplace. Two of the more prominent portions of the Budget Bill, discussed below, took effect on July 11, 2018.Continue Reading Reminder for NY employers: key pieces of sexual harassment legislation just took effect

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts concerning recent employment law developments in New York State and City:

Legislation Update: New York State Legislature Passes Sweeping Anti-Sexual Harassment Legislation

The New York State Legislature has had an eventful year and is showing no sign of slowing down. Adding to the growing federal and state legislation stemming from the #MeToo Movement, on March 30, 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a Bill containing several changes to the law governing sexual harassment in the workplace.

First, the Bill prohibits mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims brought under Article 75 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR). Interestingly though – and unless the federal law changes – this provision will be preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which displaces any conflicting state law. The conflict between the two laws will undoubtedly create confusion and tension as the new Bill takes effect. Interestingly, however, there is currently a Bill pending in the Senate, which seeks to amend the FAA to prohibit arbitration clauses in agreements relating to sexual harassment claims. Should the Senate Bill be enacted, the preemption issues surrounding this new Bill will likely be resolved.  The foregoing provision will become effective 90 days after the Bill becomes law.Continue Reading NY State of Mind: New State and City Laws (Part 4)

On January 9, 2018, Reed Smith attorney Miriam Edelstein co-presented a panel discussion on the impact of the #MeToo movement in the workplace at the January meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), Philadelphia chapter. LERA is comprised of professionals across the employment law field, both management- and employee-side attorneys, as well as arbitrators, mediators and HR professionals.

Edelstein’s presentation discussed the changes – or more accurately lack thereof – she has noted in the employment law landscape with respect to sexual harassment claims, not only over the last year as the #MeToo movement has swept across the world, but more significantly over the past many years. Despite robust and updated anti-harassment policies and their dissemination by employers, the number of legal claims has remained stagnant, and from the global conversations taking place in the media and across social media platforms, the pervasiveness of harassment far exceeds the fractional number of such accounts that result in litigation.

A few proposals are floating around legislatures and internally at companies to do away with confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment claims, as well as limiting the use of private arbitration and mediation to handle such matters. The goal of these proposals appears to be to try to counter a culture of silence around these issues, with the hope that more exposure will have a positive impact in reducing the occurrence of harassment.
Continue Reading A New Path Forward: Changing the #MeToo Culture