No More Secrets: States Introduce Legislation to Preclude Confidentiality Provisions in Settlement Agreements Involving Harassment Allegations

Allegations of sexual misconduct against celebrities and high-profile individuals continue to occupy the national spotlight. State legislators around the country have started to propose new laws which ban confidentiality and nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements that resolve disputes arising from sexual harassment allegations. As we wrote about in an early blog post, critics of confidentiality provisions claim these clauses enable victimizers to conceal and continue long-running patterns of sexual misconduct, and prevent discussion of the accusations among the victims and co-workers.

We have summarized the proposed legislation here:

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California at Work: New Labor Laws for 2018

*Originally published by CalCPA in the January/February 2018 issue of California CPA — the original article can be found here.

You may not have expected that the California Legislature in 2017 designated an official state dinosaur (Augustynolophus morrisi) and four state nuts (almond, pecan, walnut and pistachio), which are technically seeds, but that’s a separate article. Less surprising is that employer regulation and employee rights continue to expand in our state, the sixth-largest economy of the world. The rate of expansion, however, seems to have taken another pendulum swing: 304 bills introduced in 2017 mention “employer,” compared to 569 bills in 2016 and 224 in 2015. Most of those bills did not pass, and of the ones that did, most were not signed into law by Gov. Brown. Essential elements of several bills that became law affecting private employers, effective Jan. 1, 2018, unless noted otherwise, follow.

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Key New California Laws for 2018: What Employers Should Know

Governor Jerry Brown signed several laws in 2017 that will impact California employers next year. A summary of some of the key new laws follows, in numerical order by Assembly Bill (AB) and/or Senate Bill (SB). All of the laws outlined below are effective beginning January 1, 2018.

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Bill Strengthens Enforcement Powers of Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations

Philadelphia is poised to strengthen the enforcement powers of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (“PCHR”), the City’s primary civil rights and anti-discrimination agency.  Under legislation that passed City Council on May 8, 2017, the PCHR would have the authority to issue cease and desist orders—closing a business’s operations for an unspecified length of time—if the agency determines the business has engaged in “severe or repeated violations” of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (“the Ordinance”).  The authority to shut down a business’s operation is an unheard of remedy for employment related civil rights violation and—given the significant ramification for employers—it is critical for Philadelphia employers to be aware of the potential consequences of the PCHR’s enhanced powers for their business operations.

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The Most Important Questions to Ask During Internal Investigations Into Employment-Related Issues

Bill Horwitz published an article for HR Dive titled, “The most important questions to ask during internal investigations into employment-related issues.” In the article, Bill discusses internal investigations and the key questions an investigator should always ask.

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Appellate Decision May Prompt New Jersey Employers to Seek Jury Waivers Instead of Arbitration Agreements

Earlier this month, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, issued a decision that may cause employers considering mandatory arbitration agreements to consider jury-waiver agreements instead. In Noren v. Heartland Payment Systems, Inc., 2017 WL 476216 (App. Div. Feb. 6, 2017), the Court invalidated a jury-waiver provision’s application to statutory employment claims, but explained that, worded properly, such waivers are enforceable.  Litigating in court without a jury has certain advantages and New Jersey employers considering arbitration programs may also want to consider jury waiver provisions as another possible option.

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