Salesforce just became the latest tech giant to commit to limiting the scope of its non-disclosure agreements, freeing workers up to talk about instances of harassment or discrimination they experience on the job. Salesforce and all California employers are already required to make these changes for workers in the state under California’s Silenced No More Act. But the new policy extends those protections to all Salesforce employees across the country.
“Our employees are key stakeholders, and it’s critical that we offer them the support to ensure they’re happy, healthy and protected,” the company wrote in a blog post Friday. Salesforce plans to implement the changes by the end of 2022.
A good deal of the credit for this shift goes to the so-called Transparency in Employment Agreements Coalition, a group of advocates and investors that has been using shareholder proposals to encourage tech giants, including Salesforce, Meta, Alphabet and Apple, to extend the policies enshrined in the Silenced No More Act to all of their employees. One of the leaders of that coalition, former Pinterest employee Ifeoma Ozoma, was instrumental in pushing that law forward in California. Another version of the law also recently passed in Washington state.
“From the beginning, my goal in assembling the coalition was for us to get these protections to as many workers in as many jurisdictions as possible, and this certainly marks a massive achievement of that goal,” Ozoma said of the Salesforce commitment. The company has offices in more than a dozen U.S. states. Now that Salesforce has committed to make these changes, the coalition is withdrawing its proposal.
Salesforce is not the first tech company this pressure campaign has worked on. After facing a similar proposal from the coalition earlier this month, Google confirmed in an SEC filing that employees are free to discuss workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation, even under their current NDAs. Though the company insists that’s not a new policy, it had never before published the exact terms of its employee agreements — especially not in a place where investors and the SEC could hold them to it.
Apple, meanwhile, initially asked the SEC to exclude the coalition’s proposal calling for a report on its use of concealment clauses. Apple argued that the company had already “substantially implemented” the proposal in its business conduct policy. The SEC denied the request and is now reportedly looking into whether the company misled investors with its statements. In the meantime, Apple ended up committing in its proxy statement to incorporate the Silenced No More Act’s language in all U.S. separation agreements, which Ozoma counts as a major, hard-fought victory of the coalition’s work.
“The point of Silenced No More is enshrining the protections in the actual contracts people sign,” Ozoma said. “Not employee handbooks that can be and are changed at a whim.”
Ozoma and the coalition have also secured commitments to expand these protections from Twilio, Expensify and Pinterest, Ozoma’s former employer. Ozoma and her former colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks have been public about allegations of discrimination and retaliation at the company, which has prompted their ongoing activism.
The coalition’s work, coupled with the work of a growing number of state legislatures, suggests that the tech industry’s wall of secrecy is on its way out. Investors, lawmakers and workers themselves seem increasingly supportive of freeing employees from the gag orders that often wind up blowing up in their faces.
The only question now is: Who’s next?