Non-disclosure agreements – which could protect employers when their employees are sexually harassed on the job and forced to stay silent about it – are back in focus for state legislators.

In 2020, Hawaii passed a law which prohibited non-disclosure agreements in most instances. Yet that bill turned out to have significant loopholes. For example, it did not apply to human resources employees, who are expected to maintain confidentiality at all times as a part of their official duties. It also did not protect employees already working for a company.

A new measure, House Bill 2495, would broaden protections from non-disclosure agreements to include current employees or volunteers at a business.

HB 2495 already cleared its first round of committee hearings and is progressing through the Legislature. The House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee plans to hold a hearing on the measure Wednesday.

Hawaii State Capitol Building on the last day of legislative session.
State lawmakers are pushing forward a bill that would protect more employees from having to sign non-disclosure agreements. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The bill focuses on employment practices specifically relating to sexual misconduct.

“NDAs are not actually victim-centered and have functioned to shield serial offenders,” Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, said.

Ann Free, representing the Hawaii Democratic Women’s Caucus said in written testimony that individuals in positions of power should not be able to “buy silence from women who need to be heard.”

“This legislation will address a corporate and governmental practice abused by people ranging from the former president, to news show anchors, to sitting Congressionals,” Free said.

In Hawaii, more than half of women surveyed by Safe Spaces and Workplaces in 2019, reported being sexually harassed at their workplace. Only 18% reported the incident to their human resources department. One of the reasons stated was that employees fear retaliation from their employer.

Help Power Local, Nonprofit News.

Across the nation and in Hawaii, news organizations are downsizing and closing their doors due to the ever-rising costs of keeping local journalism alive and well.

While Civil Beat has grown year over year, still only 1% of our readers are donors, and we need your help now more than ever.

Make a gift today of any amount, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,500, thanks to a generous group of Civil Beat donors.

About the Author