This past week I watched my fellow colleague’s panel presentation on Washington’s Silence No More Act. While I was aware that some states had starting passing laws that limited an employer’s ability to require confidentiality with regards to claims of sexual harassment following the #metoo movement, the Silence No More Act goes well beyond that.
As an HR consultant I regularly help clients deal with employee relations issues that would fall under the Washington Silence No More Act, including claims of discrimination, harassment, and wage and hour violations. What concerns me about Washington’s law is that it protects employee’s rights to communicate these concerns or complaints based on their “reasonable belief” that there is a violation by the employer. First, the level of “reasonable belief” is not well defined and is a very subjective measure. Second, it potentially closes the door for employers to settle situations in-house when possible if employees feel that this law has fully opened the door for litigation. In my experience, in many cases there is not in fact a violation but a miscommunication between the employer and employee or misunderstanding of the laws applied by the employee. I can see this law potentially impacting an employer’s ability to quietly resolve those issues and clear up miscommunications and misunderstanding and now having to spend additional time trying to do so through the litigation process as well as having to try to defend their reputations as good employers.
In addition, the Washington Silenced No More Act and similar acts have now led to the push for a federal law. If this passes, it will change the way all employers will need to think about company confidentiality, Confidentiality Agreements, as well as Severance Agreements. While I do believe that employers should not be able to silence employees from speaking out in certain situations, such as sexual harassment and discrimination, I have to wonder if the way this law and the possible federal law coming down the pipeline is written is too broadly written.
Washington's Silenced No More Act - Too Broad? © 2022 by Lorrie Coffey is licensed underCC BY 4.0