STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi to ensure workers have the right to report alleged incidents of sexual harassment, discrimination or illegal activity. The bill would prohibit employers from requiring non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as a condition of employment that prevent workers from discussing alleged violations of their civil rights or criminal conduct that they experience in the workplace.
“Workers are being forced to sign away their rights as a condition of employment,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “That means if harassment or discrimination occurs, someone can be prohibited from talking about it or seeking remedy in court. And perpetrators can avoid accountability and continue victimizing other employees.”
The legislation (2023-H 5929) would forbid any employer from requiring an employee to execute a nondisclosure agreement or non-disparagement agreement regarding alleged violations of civil rights or criminal conduct as a condition of employment. NDAs could still be entered into voluntarily. Mandatory NDAs would still be permitted concerning all other confidential business information.
Across the country, 21 states currently limit NDAs or ban them outright.
“The millions who have said ‘me too’ have shown us the power of survivors being able to speak out about discrimination, including harassment and sexual assault,” said Andrea Johnson, director of state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. “They have also shown us how too many employers have abused contractual tools like nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreements to keep workers from coming forward and have swept discrimination, harassment and assault under the rug. This bill removes a big legal barrier to survivor justice, and we’re grateful to Representative Tanzi for her support.”
“When someone starts a new job, they aren’t planning on being the victim of harassment or discrimination,” said Representative Tanzi. “But if those things happen and they have signed an NDA, it may already be too late. This bill protects the rights of workers to come forward and will ensure safer, more respectful workplaces for all of us.”
The bill passed the House unanimously. It now heads to the Rhode Island Senate where Sen. Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham) has introduced companion legislation (2023-S 0342).