Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

workplaceworkplaceauthorIssie LapowskyNoneYour guide to the new world of work.39cd4d6373
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Protocol | Policy

Tech giants are staying silent on California’s anti-NDA bill

Facebook, Apple, Google and Twitter are keeping quiet about the Silenced No More Act, even as a major trade organization fights against it.

California’s state assembly room, empty

California's state assembly could soon pass a bill to prohibit certain types of NDAs.

Photo: Slobo/Getty Images

A California bill to outlaw non-disclosure agreements that prohibit employees from talking about illegal harassment and discrimination is inching toward a final vote in the California legislature after clearing a key committee this week. But many of the top tech companies that call California home are staying silent on the bill — even as their major trade association in the state vocally opposes it.

The Silenced No More Act, introduced by state Sen. Connie Leyva this year, broadens a law called the STAND Act that freed workers to talk specifically about sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Facebook, Google and Twitter all told Protocol they had no position on the bill. Apple did not respond to Protocol's request for comment. Two leading tech trade groups, Internet Association and TechNet, also declined to take a position when asked by Protocol.

Even as some of California's most powerful companies withhold public comment on a law that would affect not just their full-time staff, but the armies of contract workers whom they indirectly employ in the state, the California Chamber of Commerce, which represents 14,000 businesses including Facebook and Google, has mounted a full-throated opposition campaign against the bill.

Their argument: The bill will inadvertently hurt employees by discouraging employers from paying severance packages altogether.

"This double threat of costly litigation for offering a severance agreement that potentially violates any of these requirements will certainly discourage employers from offering severance packages," CalChamber and other trade groups wrote to two Assembly committees this month in a letter reviewed by Protocol. "The point of a severance agreement is to eliminate the risk of claims and litigation, not invite multiple threats of litigation." CalChamber did not respond to Protocol's request for comment.

To Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee who helped draft the law after speaking out about her own allegations of discrimination and retaliation at Pinterest, the Chamber's logic is strained. The law, she said, would only prohibit NDAs that prevent employees from talking about "unlawful acts," and would still allow companies to reach agreements with employees to release their legal claims.

"Companies aren't just paying for people to be quiet. They're paying for people not to sue them," Ozoma said. "If you believe your severance payment is unlawful in and of itself, that's a conversation you should be having among yourselves."

Business groups made much the same case before the passage of the STAND Act, but both Ozoma and Leyva said they've yet to see any evidence that that law has had an impact on severance payouts. "This is the same argument they made with [the STAND Act] and none of it has come to light," Leyva said.

Ozoma, who worked at both Facebook and Google before Pinterest, called tech companies' reticence on the bill "curious" given their recent statements on issues related to race in America. The Silenced No More Act is the first bill that would give people the ability to talk publicly not just about gender discrimination, but also about racial discrimination, even if they're under an NDA.

"They've made a lot of statements about how they support Black lives, women and all their diversity initiatives," Ozoma said. "I just think it's really curious that they've been silent about an issue that cuts to the heart of what they claim their morals are."

Leyva said the industry's silence "speaks volumes" and suggests they're "wanting to just stand back and let the Chamber do the dirty work for them."

CalChamber's position on the bill doesn't necessarily reflect the views of all of its members, of course. But for members who don't want to face the public relations backlash for speaking out against the bill themselves, the Chamber provides a convenient cover, Ozoma, who worked for the policy teams at Facebook, Google and Pinterest, said.

"They're pretty vocal about legislation. They have a whole team of people tracking legislation, so it can't be that they don't know this is happening," she said. "I really think the silence is not accidental."

NDAs are hardly scarce in the tech industry; visitors can barely walk in the door at top tech companies without signing away their right to talk. For employees, NDAs are similarly pervasive. And yet the only tech company to say anything publicly about the bill has been Pinterest, which has sought to answer for the issues Ozoma and her former colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks described regarding their time at the company.

Pinterest told Protocol in April — the same day Ozoma published an op-ed about the bill in The New York Times — that it supports the Silenced No More Act and would no longer impose agreements that prevent employees from talking about their experiences. But Pinterest didn't go so far as to release former employees from such agreements, and the company hasn't spoken in support of the bill at any of its recent hearings. (Pinterest didn't respond to Protocol's request for comment.)

Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda told Protocol that the company wasn't involved with the CalChamber's decision to oppose the bill, but Google hasn't come out in support of it either. Google said that it has not historically asked employees to sign NDAs that prevent them from talking about workplace conditions.

But the same hasn't been true for Google's contractors, some of whom recently sued Google and one of its staffing firms for the right to discuss their wages and working conditions. As part of its settlement with workers, Google promised to put signs up in its data centers, alerting workers that they can discuss wages and working conditions "with other employees."

Facebook's content moderators in Ireland, meanwhile, told the Guardian in February that they were warned not to break their NDAs when describing COVID-19 working conditions during a meeting with the country's deputy prime minister. Some Facebook moderators in Florida have in the past put themselves at legal risk, violating the terms of their NDAs to speak to members of the press. While the Silenced No More Act would only apply to workers in California, lawmakers in Ireland, where many tech giants have their global headquarters, are considering a similar law with Ozoma's input.

The California Assembly still needs to hold a vote to pass the bill, and the Senate will have to sign off on any amendments they made before it heads to the governor's desk. Leyva, for one, doesn't anticipate any issues. "Anyone who voted for it the first time in the Senate should have no problem voting for it again," she said.

Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

Keep Reading Show less
Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Workplace

Founder sues the company that acquired her startup

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Knoq found success selling its door-to-door sales and analytics services to companies such as Google Fiber, Inspire Energy, Fluent Home and others. Knoq representatives would walk around neighborhoods, knocking on doors to market its customers' products and services. The pandemic, however, threw a wrench in its business. Prior to the acquisition, Knoq says it raised $6.5 million from Initialized Capital, Haystack.vc, Techstars and others.

Keep Reading Show less
Megan Rose Dickey
Megan Rose Dickey is a senior reporter at Protocol covering labor and diversity in tech. Prior to joining Protocol, she was a senior reporter at TechCrunch and a reporter at Business Insider.
dei
Protocol | Workplace

What’s the purpose of a chief purpose officer?

Cisco's EVP and chief people, policy & purpose officer shares how the company is creating a more conscious and hybrid work culture.

Like many large organizations, the leaders at Cisco spent much of the past year working to ensure their employees had an inclusive and flexible workplace while everyone worked from home during the pandemic. In doing so, they brought a new role into the mix. In March 2021 Francine Katsoudas transitioned from EVP and chief people officer to chief people, policy & purpose Officer.

For many, the role of a purpose officer is new. Purpose officers hold their companies accountable to their mission and the people who work for them. In a conversation with Protocol, Katsoudas shared how she is thinking about the expanded role and the future of hybrid work at Cisco.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

Protocol | Fintech

The digital dollar is coming. The payments industry is worried.

Jodie Kelley heads the Electronic Transactions Association. The trade group's members, who process $7 trillion a year in payments, want a say in the digital currency.

Jodie Kelley is CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Photo: Electronic Transactions Association

The Electronic Transactions Association launched in 1990 just as new technologies, led by the World Wide Web, began upending the world of commerce and finance.

The disruption hasn't stopped.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Latest Stories