New law prohibits secret settlements for sexual harassment claims

As a result of #MeToo, California has banned secret settlements in relation to sexual harassment claims.

A number of laws were recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown that seek to address workplace sexual harassment. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, one of the most significant bills to be passed, SB820, will ban secret settlements and nondisclosure agreements in relation to sexual harassment claims. However, another landmark bill that would have banned mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment was vetoed by the governor.

Secret settlements banned

Secret settlements and nondisclosure agreements have become a major issue during the #MeToo movement. Critics contend that secret settlements have been used by serial abusers to keep accusations of sexual harassment against them from ever reaching the public. Such secrete settlements, critics say, allow abusers to continue to behave badly for years without facing any consequences.

As a result, SB820 bans the use of secret settlements and nondisclosure agreements in relation to sexual harassment claims. The law allows victims to still choose to keep their names secret, but alleged perpetrators would not be allowed to do the same. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2019 and will apply to both public and private employers.

Other bills passed or vetoed

Other bills were also signed into law recently that also address sexual harassment. SB1343, for example, expands biannual sexual harassment training to employees, while AB1619 gives victims of sexual assault up to ten years to pursue civil damages. SB1300, meanwhile, forbids companies from requiring workers to sign liability releases in exchange for a bonus or continued employment.

However, other bills meant to tackle sexual harassment were ultimately vetoed, most notably AB3080 which would have banned employers from forcing employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements as part of their employment contract. As the Sacramento Bee reports, critics contended such agreements forced victims into private negotiations that favored alleged perpetrators and the companies they worked for. However, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill on the basis that it "plainly violates federal law."

Gov. Brown also vetoed AB1870, which would have given employees three years to file a discrimination lawsuit. As a result, workers will continue to have just one year to file a lawsuit for discrimination. AB1867, which would have required large companies to keep records of sexual harassment claims for at least five years after an alleged harasser leaves their job, was also vetoed.

Employment claims

Employment law, as the above article shows, is in a state of flux in California at the moment. That can leave both employers and employees uncertain about what their current rights are under the law. As a result, anybody involved in an employment claim should talk to an employment law attorney as soon as possible to help see them through what is often a difficult and complex process.