In an important victory for Silicon Valley activists and Californian workers, the governor signed a law prohibiting companies from prohibiting employees from reporting harassment and discrimination.
The new law is the result of hard advocacy by those in the tech industry who have long spoken out against restrictive confidentiality agreements, known as nondisclosure agreements or NDAs, which aim to protect industry secrets but have also created a culture of silence around wrongdoing.
NDAs often keep incidents of harassment and discrimination secret, forcing employees to remain silent or face legal action and fines. They became a topic of debate after the #MeToo movement, when it was revealed that Harvey Weinstein used such contracts to keep his victims from speaking out.
“This act is a big step in the right direction to eradicate the cultures of secrecy around misogyny and racism in the workplace, particularly in the California tech industry,” said Veena Dubal, associate professor of law at the University of California, Hastings, and an advocate for tech workers.
The Silenced No More Act was co-sponsored by Ifeoma Ozoma, a former policy manager at Pinterest who broke her own confidentiality agreement to go public with allegations of discrimination at the company in 2020, with her colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks. Both alleged that Pinterest had done little to protect them from harassment inside and outside the company.
“Reporting the discrimination and retaliation I faced on Pinterest felt like closing a chapter, and the work on this bill was a fresh start,” Ozoma told The Guardian. “Tens of millions of people will no longer be silenced, and I can’t think of a better way to turn pain into progress.”
The law was sponsored by California Senator Connie Leyva and will extend protections against secret workplace agreements. It will also ban the use of confidentiality agreements for workers leaving a company..
“It is absolutely unacceptable that an employer tries to silence a worker because he has been the victim of any kind of harassment or discrimination,” Leyva said in a statement.
While the bill was led and supported by tech workers, it will apply to all California industries and large state-based companies will need to comply with it as well.
The Silenced No More law builds on an existing law passed as a result of the #MeToo movement, which prohibited the use of confidentiality agreements in cases of sexual harassment to include other types of discrimination, such as discrimination salary or prejudice based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability or religion.
“If they wish, workers should always be able to speak openly about harassment or discrimination they have suffered in the workplace so that they can hold them to account and prevent future abuses by perpetrators,” Leyva said.
Initially, very few tech companies supported the bill, although Pinterest announcement his support in April, saying he would abide by the rules of the new bill whether or not it passes.
“We want every employee to feel safe, defended and empowered to voice concerns about their work experience,” CEO Ben Silbermann wrote in the statement.