Congress passes law prohibiting use of NDAs to silence sexual misconduct allegations

Man is filling in Non-Disclosure Agreement NDA.
Man is filling in Non-Disclosure Agreement NDA. (iStock)

Congress passes law prohibiting use of NDAs to silence sexual misconduct allegations

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The House passed a bill that prohibits the use of nondisclosure or other confidentiality agreements to silence allegations of sexual misconduct within the workplace, marking a rare moment of bipartisanship during the final weeks of the 117th Congress.

The House passed the Speak Out Act with a 315-109 vote on Wednesday, clearing the final hurdle before the legislation heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his approval. The bill previously passed the Senate in September with a unanimous vote.

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Under the Speak Out Act, employers will be barred from using nondisclosure agreements to silence those who report instances of sexual misconduct and related disputes inside the workplace. However, the bill does have some limitations, stopping short of defining what exactly constitutes a “dispute” and applying only to confidential agreements that were signed before such an incident arises.

That means the legislation would only apply to agreements that are signed before an accusation is made, such as documents one must sign on their first day of work. The bill would also not extend to other kinds of complaints, such as wage theft or age and race discrimination.

The bill comes just five years after the resurgence of the nationwide #MeToo social movement that sought to raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace. Several advocates pushed for the legislation for years, including former Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Julie Roginsky.

The pair founded a nonprofit organization called Lift Our Voices in 2019 specifically to end the practice of nondisclosure agreements in the workplace.

Carlson had previously sued her boss, then-Fox News President Roger Ailes, as a way to get around her own nondisclosure agreement. In the 2016 lawsuit, Carlson accused Ailes of making inappropriate and overtly sexual comments to her in the workplace.

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She later settled that suit and is still bound to a nondisclosure agreement with the company, according to Axios. Ailes died in 2017.

Biden is expected to sign the bill, releasing a statement in support of the legislation on Monday.

“Workers should not be silenced in the face of workplace sexual harassment and assault, or face retaliation for coming forward to report such abuse,” the White House said in a statement. “Transparency is the best way to hold workers accountable.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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