Employers and employees entering into separation or settlement agreements have traditionally agreed to nondisclosure clauses that prohibit disclosure of the agreement or the circumstances leading to its execution. Although these clauses have not previously been subject to much controversy and considered to provide valuable closure for employer and employee, the #MeToo movement has generated much criticism of such clauses when related to allegations of sexual harassment, arguing they have the detrimental effects of silencing victims and enabling repeat offenders.  This criticism has led to new trends in the law which discourage such nondisclosure clauses and agreements.

The most significant change so far is in federal tax law, which has created a disincentive to nondisclosure provisions in settlements of sexual harassment or abuse claims. Specifically, Congress’s recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act prohibits employers from deducting as a business expense (under Internal Revenue Code Section 162)  “(1) any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, or (2) attorney’s fees related to such a settlement or payment.”

At the state level so far, California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington have introduced legislation aimed at curtailing the use of nondisclosure provisions that restrict discussions or disclosure of workplace sex harassment. Each state proposal has its own specifics, but in general they render invalid the use or enforcement of non-disclosure provisions related to sexual harassment, either as part of any nondisclosure agreement, or in the context of settlement agreements, or both.  As of the date of this article, legislation is still pending in California, New York, and Pennsylvania, and New Jersey’s bill did not pass in the state’s last legislative session.  Washington’s bill was enacted into law on March 21, 2018 with an effective date of June 7, 2018 and covers nondisclosure agreements entered into as a condition of employment, but permits confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements.  The text of the Washington law can be found here.

Employers should stay up to date concerning applicable laws in connection with nondisclosure agreements. And when nondisclosure agreements exist, employers should remember that they may not interfere with an employee’s right to file a charge with or communicate with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).  Although a settlement agreement can bar an individual from seeking monetary or other individual relief at the EEOC, courts and the EEOC have invalidated agreement terms that interfere with an individual’s nonwaivable right as a matter of public policy to file a charge or otherwise communicate with the EEOC.

For more information or for any other employment matter impacting your business, please contact the authors of this article or the attorney you regularly work with at Hogan Lovells.

 

Since the rise of the #MeToo movement, employers are facing increased challenges – changed employee expectations, allegations of “old” harassment or renewed attention to previously “resolved” claims, and a heightened attention to such things as bullying, off-site conduct, and workplace romances.

Join our panel of Hogan Lovells lawyers for a discussion on what’s new in this area, as well as some of the thornier issues employers have long faced, including:

  • What constitutes harassment in the first place, and should employers be concerned about conduct that is not legally prohibited?
  • When alleged harassment occurs, who should investigate, and how do employers know when an outside investigator should be brought in?
  • What if an alleged victim does not want to cooperate?
  • Are an employer’s obligations different when a high-level manager or executive is accused?
  • How do you impose corrective action without over or under doing it?
  • In addition to policies and training, what best practices can help improve a workplace culture to prevent harassment?

The panel will take place on April 26, 2018, from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. in Hogan Lovells’ Washington D.C. office. Registration, networking, and a light breakfast will begin at 8:30 a.m. CLE credit is pending.

Kindly RSVP by April 23, 2018.

We look forward to seeing you.

Agenda
8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Breakfast and networking
9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Panel Discussion

Contact

Trevor Godley
trevor.godley@hoganlovells.com

Hogan Lovells invites you to a panel discussion focused on best practices for addressing workplace sexual harassment allegations.

Most companies have anti-harassment policies, but do employees and managers know what these policies really mean? Are these policies enforced consistently across the organization? What are the employer’s obligations when the allegation involves a high-ranking manager or executive? And what if the allegations are true?

Join our labor & employment and internal investigation attorneys as they answer these and other thorny questions on this important topic. In addition, our panelists will discuss the following:

    • When to, how to, and who should conduct an internal investigation
    • Legal liability and other consequences for both the company and the harasser, including the potential impact on separation, settlement and non-disclosure agreements
    • Public relations considerations and the impact of social media in the current climate of harassment
    • International implications, including complications relating to foreign employees and U.S. employees abroad

The panel will take place on March 22, 2018 from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. in the Hogan Lovells’ New York office. Registration begins at 4:30 p.m. CLE credit is pending. A reception with light food and refreshments will follow the discussion.

Kindly RSVP here.

We look forward to hosting you.

Agenda
4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Registration
5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Panel Discussion
6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Reception

Contact

Matthew Rimi
matthew.rimi@hoganlovells.com