The bill appears to be a response to the #MeToo movement.
The #MeToo movement has exposed numerous instances of payments to individuals, primarily women, who have received cash settlements in return for keeping silent about the harassment they have endured while at work.
These agreements are an effort by the companies that employ these women to limit negative publicity. Apparently it is standard procedure at many companies to include provisions in employment contracts stipulating that all controversies between employees and their employers will be settled by binding arbitration and that the decisions rendered in the proceedings will remain confidential.
New employees are, for the most part, not in a position to negotiate the terms of their employment contracts. They seldom realize the consequences associated with arbitration clauses.
One of the main goals of the #MeToo movement is to enable women to publically denounce the actions of their persecutors. Public humiliation and the negative economic impacts of this humiliation are perceived as an essential weapon in the fight to reduce sexual harassment.
An article in Construction Law Now by Christopher M. Galusha outlines the steps the New Jersey State Assembly is taking to remedy the inequities of employment contracts that force individuals to remain silent about sexual harassment in return for a negotiated settlement.
“Last month a bill was introduced to the New Jersey State Assembly (A-5287) by Assemblymen John McKeon (Essex and Morris) and Jon Bramnick (Morris, Somerset and Union) that would bar provisions in employment contracts that waive any substantive or procedural rights or remedies. The bill also seeks to prohibit agreements that conceal any details relating to discrimination claims.”
The bill, if passed, could become the precursor for similar legislation throughout the country. It remains to be seen whether the present momentum the #MeToo movement has created in the long–term evolution toward equal rights for women is temporary or permanent. But if legislation similar to the bill now being considered in New Jersey materializes throughout the country, the days when people in positions of power can sexually harass their subordinates with impunity may be coming to an end.
A Response to the #MeToo Movement: NJ Bill Tightens Position on Employment Agreements, Christopher M. Galusha, Construction Law Now, Jan. 9, 2018.