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April 2022: Washington Governor Signs “Silenced No More Act” into Law

05 Apr


Update Applicable to:
All employers in the state of Washington

What happened?
On March 24, 2022, Governor Inslee signed into law Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1795 (ESHB 1795), also known as the “Silenced No More Act.”

What are the details?
Going into effect on June 9, 2022, the newly enacted law broadly covers all types of agreements between employees (defined as current, former, and prospective employees or independent contractors) and an employer, including:

  • employment agreements (such as those signed at the beginning of employment);
  • independent contractor agreements;
  • agreements to pay compensation in exchange for the release of a legal claim (settlement or severance agreements); and
  • any other agreement between an employer and employee

Prohibited nondisclosure and non-disparagement provisions cover any conduct that an employee reasonably believes under Washington state, federal, or common law to be illegal discrimination, harassment, retaliation, a wage-and-hour-violation, sexual assault, or conduct that is recognized as violating a clear mandate of public policy.

ESHB 1795 also defines prohibited nondisclosure and non-disparagement provisions to cover conduct that occurs at the workplace, at work-related events coordinated by or through the employer, between employees, or between an employer and an employee (whether on or off the employment premises).

No Exceptions for Settlement Agreements

ESHB 1795 is much more expansive than the 2018 version it repealed (RCW 49.44.210), which prohibited employers from requiring employees, as condition of employment, to sign nondisclosure agreements preventing employees from disclosing sexual harassment and sexual assault occurring in the workplace or work-related events.

The only stated exceptions to ESHB 1795 are that employers may still keep confidential the amount paid in a settlement of a disputed claim and that the law also does not apply to agreements protecting trade secrets, proprietary information, or confidential information (as long as they do not involve illegal acts). Unlike its California counterpart and its prior version which came out of the #MeToo movement, ESHB 1795 provides no exception for settlement agreements of discrimination claims or lawsuits.

Civil Penalties
Nondisclosure and non-disparagement provisions are not only void and unenforceable under ESHB 1795, violating employers are also subject to civil penalties of actual or statutory damages of $10,000 (whichever is greater), plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, if they:

  1. discharge, discriminate, or retaliate against an employee who discloses conduct they reasonably believed to be illegal discrimination, harassment, retaliation, a wage-and-hour violation, or sexual assault;
  2. request or require an employee to enter into an agreement with a prohibited provision; or
  3. attempt to enforce a provision that is prohibited by this law, whether through a lawsuit, a threat to enforce, or any other attempt to influence a party to comply with a prohibited provision.

Retroactive Effect

Most notably, ESHB 1795 applies retroactively. It invalidates provisions in agreements created before the effective date and that were agreed to at the outset of employment or during the course of employment. However, the retroactivity clause does not apply to a nondisclosure or non-disparagement provision in an agreement to settle a legal claim.

For more information, please see the links below:

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1795 (ESHB 1795)

Article 1Article 2

What do employers need to do?
Employers should review the links provided and review and revise any employment agreement with confidentiality and/or non-disparagement provisions to ensure they are in compliance with the law.

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This communication is intended solely for the purpose of conveying information. The present post might incorporate hyperlinks directing readers to websites managed by third-party entities. The inclusion of any links within this communication is meant to serve as points of reference and could encompass opinion articles from various law firms, articles from HR associations, official websites, news releases, and documents of government agencies, and other relevant third-party sources. Vensure has no authority over these external websites and bears no responsibility for their content. Furthermore, Vensure does not endorse the materials present on these websites. The contents of this communication should not be interpreted as legal advice or as a legal standpoint concerning specific facts or scenarios. Nor should it be deemed an exhaustive compilation of facts potentially pertinent to federal, state, or local laws. It is strongly advised that employers solicit legal guidance from an employment attorney when undertaking actions in response to any legal updates provided. This is due to the possibility of future alterations occurring in federal, state, and local laws, regulations, as well as the directives and guidelines issued by governing agencies. These changes may transpire at any given time, potentially rendering certain portions of the content within this update void or inaccurate.

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