New Jersey Responds to the #MeToo Era by Broadly Banning “Waiver of Rights” and Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment Agreements

Epstein Becker & Green
Contact

Epstein Becker & Green

On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S121 (“Law”), a measure that will have immediate and significant impact on the enforceability of “waiver of rights” provisions in employment contracts and confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements resolving claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Specifically, the Law declares as against public policy and unenforceable:

  • any provision in an employment contract that waives an employee’s substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim under the LAD or any other statute or case law (a so-called “waiver of rights” provision), and
  • nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts and settlement agreements that conceal the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment (so-called “NDA” provisions).

The Law took effect immediately and applies to all covered employment contracts and settlement agreements entered into, renewed, modified, or amended on or after March 18, 2019, except for collective bargaining agreements.

Does the Law Apply to All Agreements?

Apparently not. The Law refers only to provisions in an “employment contract” and a “settlement agreement” and uses the terms separately, not interchangeably. The Law does not define the term “employment contract” but, in contrast, describes “settlement agreement” as an “agreement resolving a discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim.”

That said, employment applications, which may contain agreements that become operative upon commencement of employment, such as jury and class action waivers, would appear to fall within the definition of “employment contract.”

Of importance, the Law makes no mention of severance and release agreements where there has been no claim made by the employee, and the Law appears inapplicable to such agreements.

Furthermore, the Law does not apply to “contracts and agreements entered into, renewed, modified, or amended” before March 18, 2019.

What Does the Prohibition on “Waiver of Rights” Provisions Mean?

Which rights and remedies cannot be waived?

The Law prohibits a provision in an “employment contract” that waives “any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” under the LAD or “any other statute or case law.”

The Law does not define the terms “substantive,” “procedural,” “rights,” or “remedies.” Courts interpret the LAD broadly, however, because it is a remedial statute; therefore, employers may expect that these terms will be applied expansively.

Notably, the Law does not expressly prohibit arbitration agreements—no doubt, because such an agreement would conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act and be subject to preemption. Thus, attempting to discern or suggest some legislative intent to prohibit pre-dispute arbitration agreements under current federal law is of little value. If federal law changes to bar mandatory agreements to arbitrate certain employment disputes, as has been recently proposed, the applicability of the Law to arbitration claims would likewise be affected.

Nevertheless, the Law appears to bar a prospective class action waiver, which is a procedural right created by a statute other than the LAD. The Law also ostensibly bars agreements to shorten statutes of limitations for laws and claims other than those arising under the LAD (which the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled cannot be shortened by agreement).

Which laws are covered by the “waiver of rights” ban?

The expanse of the Law’s ban on “waiver of rights” agreements in employment contracts is clear in at least one significant respect—it is not limited to an employee’s prospective rights or remedies under the LAD, which itself grants extensive protections to alleged victims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.[1] Rather, as noted, the Law expressly bars a “waiver of rights” provision concerning any rights or remedies an employee may have under “any other statute or case law” (emphasis added), another phrase left unclarified by the Law.

Thus, the “waiver of rights” ban applies not only to such claims as sex, race, and age bias or harassment, or retaliation under the LAD, but apparently also to claims of retaliation under such laws as the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act and the New Jersey Family Leave Act. Add “case law” to the mix, and the Law ostensibly applies to myriad employment-related tort and contract claims as well.

Does the ban on waivers of rights and remedies apply to all agreements?

Apparently not. A fair reading of the Law suggests that the section on waiver provisions applies only to prospective waivers in employment contracts. The waiver provision section does not mention settlement agreements. The portion of the Law on nondisclosure provisions, by contrast, refers to both.

What Are the Restrictions on Nondisclosure Agreements (“NDAs”)?

The NDA provision applies to "discrimination, retaliation, and harassment" claims.

What disclosures are covered by the prohibition on NDAs?

The Law declares that an NDA in an employment contract or a settlement agreement (more often referred to as a confidentiality provision) contravenes public policy and thus is “unenforceable against a current or former employee who is a party to the contract or settlement.” The Law defines a prohibited NDA as one that “has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.”

Again, however, the extent of the ban is uncertain, as terms like “concealing” and “details” are undefined. Nevertheless, the NDA section appears to apply only where there has been a “claim” for which there are “details” to “conceal.”

Commonly, employers enter into confidential severance and release agreements where employees have made no claim, for example, when there has been a reduction in force. In such instances, the general release agreement under the Law’s NDA section appears to be inapplicable. To avoid unwittingly running afoul of the Law, however, employers may wish to consider including a carve-out in the confidentiality provision of severance/separation agreements, which states that an employee remains free to discuss his or her employment and the termination thereof.

Where the severance/separation agreement is being offered to an employee who at some time may have made a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, the carve-out should certainly be included.

Whether the details of the settlement agreement, such as the amount of consideration paid, can be the subject of an enforceable NDA is likely to be a matter requiring case-by-case determination. Where, for example, an employee has asserted an LAD claim and it is resolved as part of a severance agreement, the amount of the settlement could be considered a detail related to a claim (e.g., back wages paid in settlement of an Equal Pay Act claim) and thus subject to the NDA ban. In another instance, however, it may not be a covered “detail” (e.g., a flat amount of unspecified consideration). Non-disparagement provisions might pose similar issues.

Are there exceptions to the NDA prohibition?

The Law contains two specific exceptions to the NDA prohibition: (i) non-competition agreements and (ii) confidentiality agreements concerning an employer’s proprietary information, which includes only non-public trade secrets, business plans, and customer information. Accordingly, employers may continue to include NDA provisions in such agreements.

Must NDAs be mutual? If so, are there any exceptions to the ban on employer disclosure?

The Law does not expressly require or prohibit mutually agreed to NDAs. Under the Law, NDA provisions that prohibit disclosure of details relating to a covered claim are never enforceable against employees. At the same time, the Law appears to limit an employer’s ability to disclose such details and mandates language that employers must include in the employment contract or settlement agreement if it contains an NDA.

Specifically, the Law provides that an NDA is unenforceable against the employer if the employee “publicly reveals sufficient details of the claim so that the employer is reasonably identifiable.” To this point, the Law requires that every settlement agreement resolving a discrimination, harassment, or retaliation claim by an employee against an employer include “a bold, prominently placed notice” stating the following:

Although the parties may have agreed to keep the settlement and underlying facts confidential, such a provision in an agreement is unenforceable against the employer if the employee publicly reveals sufficient details of the claim so that the employer is reasonably identifiable.

Here again though, the Law does not define critical terms, such as “reasonably identifiable” or describe how that determination will be made.

In effect, the Law’s NDA “ban” gives the employee ultimate control over disclosure. If the employee chooses to disclose details of the claim that are likely to reveal the employer’s identity, then—and only then—is the employer free to discuss the claim and agreement publicly.

Is There an Anti-Retaliation Provision?

The Law forbids taking any retaliatory or other adverse action against a person who refuses to enter into an agreement containing a provision deemed against public policy and thus unenforceable under the Law.

What Are the Penalties for Violation?

Any person who enforces or attempts to enforce a “waiver of rights” or NDA provision prohibited by the Law will be liable for the employee's reasonable attorney fees and costs. In addition, an individual aggrieved by a violation of the Law may recover any remedies available in common law tort actions, as well as reasonable attorney fees and costs.

What New Jersey Employers Should Do Now

  • Be aware that any employment contracts or settlement agreements that contain now-prohibited provisions remain lawful and enforceable if they were entered into, modified, or renewed prior to March 18, 2019.
  • Review employment contracts and employment applications to determine whether they contain any provisions that might be construed as prospective waivers of rights or remedies. If so, consider revising such provisions, but, at the least, be aware that enforcement of such provisions may be subject to challenge.
  • Review the confidentiality provisions in template employment contracts and settlement agreements, and, if necessary, consider revising, eliminating, or narrowing the limitations on disclosure and/or adding the notice to the employee quoted above.
  • Be mindful that as of March 18, 2019, any settlement of a discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim, under the LAD or otherwise, will potentially be subject to public disclosure regardless of an employee’s agreement to a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement.
  • Due to the degree of uncertainty inherent in the Law, consult with counsel concerning any issues that require legal risk assessments.

****

ENDNOTE

[1] In addition to sex discrimination, the LAD prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of race, creed/religion, national origin, age, ancestry, nationality, marital, domestic partnership or civil union status, gender identity or expression, disability, military service, affectional or sexual orientation, atypical cellular or blood trait, and genetic information.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Epstein Becker & Green | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Epstein Becker & Green
Contact
more
less

Epstein Becker & Green on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
- hide

JD Supra Privacy Policy

Updated: May 25, 2018:

JD Supra is a legal publishing service that connects experts and their content with broader audiences of professionals, journalists and associations.

This Privacy Policy describes how JD Supra, LLC ("JD Supra" or "we," "us," or "our") collects, uses and shares personal data collected from visitors to our website (located at www.jdsupra.com) (our "Website") who view only publicly-available content as well as subscribers to our services (such as our email digests or author tools)(our "Services"). By using our Website and registering for one of our Services, you are agreeing to the terms of this Privacy Policy.

Please note that if you subscribe to one of our Services, you can make choices about how we collect, use and share your information through our Privacy Center under the "My Account" dashboard (available if you are logged into your JD Supra account).

Collection of Information

Registration Information. When you register with JD Supra for our Website and Services, either as an author or as a subscriber, you will be asked to provide identifying information to create your JD Supra account ("Registration Data"), such as your:

  • Email
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Company Name
  • Company Industry
  • Title
  • Country

Other Information: We also collect other information you may voluntarily provide. This may include content you provide for publication. We may also receive your communications with others through our Website and Services (such as contacting an author through our Website) or communications directly with us (such as through email, feedback or other forms or social media). If you are a subscribed user, we will also collect your user preferences, such as the types of articles you would like to read.

Information from third parties (such as, from your employer or LinkedIn): We may also receive information about you from third party sources. For example, your employer may provide your information to us, such as in connection with an article submitted by your employer for publication. If you choose to use LinkedIn to subscribe to our Website and Services, we also collect information related to your LinkedIn account and profile.

Your interactions with our Website and Services: As is true of most websites, we gather certain information automatically. This information includes IP addresses, browser type, Internet service provider (ISP), referring/exit pages, operating system, date/time stamp and clickstream data. We use this information to analyze trends, to administer the Website and our Services, to improve the content and performance of our Website and Services, and to track users' movements around the site. We may also link this automatically-collected data to personal information, for example, to inform authors about who has read their articles. Some of this data is collected through information sent by your web browser. We also use cookies and other tracking technologies to collect this information. To learn more about cookies and other tracking technologies that JD Supra may use on our Website and Services please see our "Cookies Guide" page.

How do we use this information?

We use the information and data we collect principally in order to provide our Website and Services. More specifically, we may use your personal information to:

  • Operate our Website and Services and publish content;
  • Distribute content to you in accordance with your preferences as well as to provide other notifications to you (for example, updates about our policies and terms);
  • Measure readership and usage of the Website and Services;
  • Communicate with you regarding your questions and requests;
  • Authenticate users and to provide for the safety and security of our Website and Services;
  • Conduct research and similar activities to improve our Website and Services; and
  • Comply with our legal and regulatory responsibilities and to enforce our rights.

How is your information shared?

  • Content and other public information (such as an author profile) is shared on our Website and Services, including via email digests and social media feeds, and is accessible to the general public.
  • If you choose to use our Website and Services to communicate directly with a company or individual, such communication may be shared accordingly.
  • Readership information is provided to publishing law firms and authors of content to give them insight into their readership and to help them to improve their content.
  • Our Website may offer you the opportunity to share information through our Website, such as through Facebook's "Like" or Twitter's "Tweet" button. We offer this functionality to help generate interest in our Website and content and to permit you to recommend content to your contacts. You should be aware that sharing through such functionality may result in information being collected by the applicable social media network and possibly being made publicly available (for example, through a search engine). Any such information collection would be subject to such third party social media network's privacy policy.
  • Your information may also be shared to parties who support our business, such as professional advisors as well as web-hosting providers, analytics providers and other information technology providers.
  • Any court, governmental authority, law enforcement agency or other third party where we believe disclosure is necessary to comply with a legal or regulatory obligation, or otherwise to protect our rights, the rights of any third party or individuals' personal safety, or to detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or safety issues.
  • To our affiliated entities and in connection with the sale, assignment or other transfer of our company or our business.

How We Protect Your Information

JD Supra takes reasonable and appropriate precautions to insure that user information is protected from loss, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. You should keep in mind that no Internet transmission is ever 100% secure or error-free. Where you use log-in credentials (usernames, passwords) on our Website, please remember that it is your responsibility to safeguard them. If you believe that your log-in credentials have been compromised, please contact us at privacy@jdsupra.com.

Children's Information

Our Website and Services are not directed at children under the age of 16 and we do not knowingly collect personal information from children under the age of 16 through our Website and/or Services. If you have reason to believe that a child under the age of 16 has provided personal information to us, please contact us, and we will endeavor to delete that information from our databases.

Links to Other Websites

Our Website and Services may contain links to other websites. The operators of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using our Website or Services and click a link to another site, you will leave our Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We are not responsible for the data collection and use practices of such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of our Website and Services and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Information for EU and Swiss Residents

JD Supra's principal place of business is in the United States. By subscribing to our website, you expressly consent to your information being processed in the United States.

  • Our Legal Basis for Processing: Generally, we rely on our legitimate interests in order to process your personal information. For example, we rely on this legal ground if we use your personal information to manage your Registration Data and administer our relationship with you; to deliver our Website and Services; understand and improve our Website and Services; report reader analytics to our authors; to personalize your experience on our Website and Services; and where necessary to protect or defend our or another's rights or property, or to detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security, safety or privacy issues. Please see Article 6(1)(f) of the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation ("GDPR") In addition, there may be other situations where other grounds for processing may exist, such as where processing is a result of legal requirements (GDPR Article 6(1)(c)) or for reasons of public interest (GDPR Article 6(1)(e)). Please see the "Your Rights" section of this Privacy Policy immediately below for more information about how you may request that we limit or refrain from processing your personal information.
  • Your Rights
    • Right of Access/Portability: You can ask to review details about the information we hold about you and how that information has been used and disclosed. Note that we may request to verify your identification before fulfilling your request. You can also request that your personal information is provided to you in a commonly used electronic format so that you can share it with other organizations.
    • Right to Correct Information: You may ask that we make corrections to any information we hold, if you believe such correction to be necessary.
    • Right to Restrict Our Processing or Erasure of Information: You also have the right in certain circumstances to ask us to restrict processing of your personal information or to erase your personal information. Where you have consented to our use of your personal information, you can withdraw your consent at any time.

You can make a request to exercise any of these rights by emailing us at privacy@jdsupra.com or by writing to us at:

Privacy Officer
JD Supra, LLC
10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 300
Sausalito, California 94965

You can also manage your profile and subscriptions through our Privacy Center under the "My Account" dashboard.

We will make all practical efforts to respect your wishes. There may be times, however, where we are not able to fulfill your request, for example, if applicable law prohibits our compliance. Please note that JD Supra does not use "automatic decision making" or "profiling" as those terms are defined in the GDPR.

  • Timeframe for retaining your personal information: We will retain your personal information in a form that identifies you only for as long as it serves the purpose(s) for which it was initially collected as stated in this Privacy Policy, or subsequently authorized. We may continue processing your personal information for longer periods, but only for the time and to the extent such processing reasonably serves the purposes of archiving in the public interest, journalism, literature and art, scientific or historical research and statistical analysis, and subject to the protection of this Privacy Policy. For example, if you are an author, your personal information may continue to be published in connection with your article indefinitely. When we have no ongoing legitimate business need to process your personal information, we will either delete or anonymize it, or, if this is not possible (for example, because your personal information has been stored in backup archives), then we will securely store your personal information and isolate it from any further processing until deletion is possible.
  • Onward Transfer to Third Parties: As noted in the "How We Share Your Data" Section above, JD Supra may share your information with third parties. When JD Supra discloses your personal information to third parties, we have ensured that such third parties have either certified under the EU-U.S. or Swiss Privacy Shield Framework and will process all personal data received from EU member states/Switzerland in reliance on the applicable Privacy Shield Framework or that they have been subjected to strict contractual provisions in their contract with us to guarantee an adequate level of data protection for your data.

California Privacy Rights

Pursuant to Section 1798.83 of the California Civil Code, our customers who are California residents have the right to request certain information regarding our disclosure of personal information to third parties for their direct marketing purposes.

You can make a request for this information by emailing us at privacy@jdsupra.com or by writing to us at:

Privacy Officer
JD Supra, LLC
10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 300
Sausalito, California 94965

Some browsers have incorporated a Do Not Track (DNT) feature. These features, when turned on, send a signal that you prefer that the website you are visiting not collect and use data regarding your online searching and browsing activities. As there is not yet a common understanding on how to interpret the DNT signal, we currently do not respond to DNT signals on our site.

Access/Correct/Update/Delete Personal Information

For non-EU/Swiss residents, if you would like to know what personal information we have about you, you can send an e-mail to privacy@jdsupra.com. We will be in contact with you (by mail or otherwise) to verify your identity and provide you the information you request. We will respond within 30 days to your request for access to your personal information. In some cases, we may not be able to remove your personal information, in which case we will let you know if we are unable to do so and why. If you would like to correct or update your personal information, you can manage your profile and subscriptions through our Privacy Center under the "My Account" dashboard. If you would like to delete your account or remove your information from our Website and Services, send an e-mail to privacy@jdsupra.com.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Privacy Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our Privacy Policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use our Website and Services following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, the practices of this site, your dealings with our Website or Services, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: privacy@jdsupra.com.

JD Supra Cookie Guide

As with many websites, JD Supra's website (located at www.jdsupra.com) (our "Website") and our services (such as our email article digests)(our "Services") use a standard technology called a "cookie" and other similar technologies (such as, pixels and web beacons), which are small data files that are transferred to your computer when you use our Website and Services. These technologies automatically identify your browser whenever you interact with our Website and Services.

How We Use Cookies and Other Tracking Technologies

We use cookies and other tracking technologies to:

  1. Improve the user experience on our Website and Services;
  2. Store the authorization token that users receive when they login to the private areas of our Website. This token is specific to a user's login session and requires a valid username and password to obtain. It is required to access the user's profile information, subscriptions, and analytics;
  3. Track anonymous site usage; and
  4. Permit connectivity with social media networks to permit content sharing.

There are different types of cookies and other technologies used our Website, notably:

  • "Session cookies" - These cookies only last as long as your online session, and disappear from your computer or device when you close your browser (like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Safari).
  • "Persistent cookies" - These cookies stay on your computer or device after your browser has been closed and last for a time specified in the cookie. We use persistent cookies when we need to know who you are for more than one browsing session. For example, we use them to remember your preferences for the next time you visit.
  • "Web Beacons/Pixels" - Some of our web pages and emails may also contain small electronic images known as web beacons, clear GIFs or single-pixel GIFs. These images are placed on a web page or email and typically work in conjunction with cookies to collect data. We use these images to identify our users and user behavior, such as counting the number of users who have visited a web page or acted upon one of our email digests.

JD Supra Cookies. We place our own cookies on your computer to track certain information about you while you are using our Website and Services. For example, we place a session cookie on your computer each time you visit our Website. We use these cookies to allow you to log-in to your subscriber account. In addition, through these cookies we are able to collect information about how you use the Website, including what browser you may be using, your IP address, and the URL address you came from upon visiting our Website and the URL you next visit (even if those URLs are not on our Website). We also utilize email web beacons to monitor whether our emails are being delivered and read. We also use these tools to help deliver reader analytics to our authors to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

Analytics/Performance Cookies. JD Supra also uses the following analytic tools to help us analyze the performance of our Website and Services as well as how visitors use our Website and Services:

  • HubSpot - For more information about HubSpot cookies, please visit legal.hubspot.com/privacy-policy.
  • New Relic - For more information on New Relic cookies, please visit www.newrelic.com/privacy.
  • Google Analytics - For more information on Google Analytics cookies, visit www.google.com/policies. To opt-out of being tracked by Google Analytics across all websites visit http://tools.google.com/dlpage/gaoptout. This will allow you to download and install a Google Analytics cookie-free web browser.

Facebook, Twitter and other Social Network Cookies. Our content pages allow you to share content appearing on our Website and Services to your social media accounts through the "Like," "Tweet," or similar buttons displayed on such pages. To accomplish this Service, we embed code that such third party social networks provide and that we do not control. These buttons know that you are logged in to your social network account and therefore such social networks could also know that you are viewing the JD Supra Website.

Controlling and Deleting Cookies

If you would like to change how a browser uses cookies, including blocking or deleting cookies from the JD Supra Website and Services you can do so by changing the settings in your web browser. To control cookies, most browsers allow you to either accept or reject all cookies, only accept certain types of cookies, or prompt you every time a site wishes to save a cookie. It's also easy to delete cookies that are already saved on your device by a browser.

The processes for controlling and deleting cookies vary depending on which browser you use. To find out how to do so with a particular browser, you can use your browser's "Help" function or alternatively, you can visit http://www.aboutcookies.org which explains, step-by-step, how to control and delete cookies in most browsers.

Updates to This Policy

We may update this cookie policy and our Privacy Policy from time-to-time, particularly as technology changes. You can always check this page for the latest version. We may also notify you of changes to our privacy policy by email.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about how we use cookies and other tracking technologies, please contact us at: privacy@jdsupra.com.

- hide

This website uses cookies to improve user experience, track anonymous site usage, store authorization tokens and permit sharing on social media networks. By continuing to browse this website you accept the use of cookies. Click here to read more about how we use cookies.