Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law yesterday, March 22, 2018, a bill that addresses sexual harassment in the workplace. The law prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement related to sexual harassment or assault. It was enacted in response to the social media movement #MeToo, which gained traction after various sexual harassment and assault claims were made against famous film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Senate Bill 5996 states that employers are prohibited from requiring an employee, as a condition of employment, to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prevents the employee from disclosing sexual harassment or sexual assault occurring in the workplace, at work-related events, or between employees, or an employer and employee, off employment premises. Any such non-disclosure agreement is void and unenforceable. Likewise, any such agreement or waiver signed by an employee that has the effect of preventing an employee from disclosing is void and unenforceable. Certain confidential employees are excluded, such as human resources staff, managers, or supervisors. Employers may also require confidentiality during investigations.
The law does not prohibit a settlement agreement with an employee or former employee from containing such confidentiality provisions.
The law is broadly drafted and appears to cover disclosure of any sexual harassment and assault in various work-related settings. Employers in Washington who use non-disclosure agreements to prevent the disclosure of an employee’s sexual harassment or assault claims at work should update those agreements. Such employers should also think about conducting their anti-harassment trainings more regularly, providing specific trainings for supervisory and managerial employees, and updating any anti-harassment policies and employee handbooks.