After California passed a law to protect employees’ right to discuss harassment or discrimination experienced at work, activists are asking investors to force large tech companies to extend the protections to their workers across the world.
The Transparency in Employment Agreements Coalition has filed shareholder resolutions at some of the nation’s biggest tech companies — including Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc.
Google parent company Alphabet Inc.
and Salesforce.com Inc.
— seeking to have the Silenced No More Act enforced on their global workforces.
Ifeoma Ozoma, who left Pinterest Inc.
in 2020 after accusing the company of gender and racial discrimination and later became the driving force behind the California law, is part of the effort, along with investors and advocacy groups that routinely submit shareholder resolutions.
“Work has been done through the Silenced No More Act, but we want to make sure workers outside California are protected,” Ozoma told MarketWatch.
The Silenced No More Act, which goes into effect next year in California, gives employees the right to talk about unlawful actions in the workplace without breaking their non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs. Michael Connor, the executive director of Open MIC (Media and Information Companies Initiative), a nonprofit that works on socially responsible investing and is also part of the coalition, said the law is “simply good business.”
See: ‘Silenced No More Act’ becomes law in California, crippling NDAs
“These resolutions are based on a simple premise: Companies benefit from knowing when sexual harassment, discrimination and unlawful behavior are happening in the workplace, which is why employees should be encouraged to speak out about such conduct,” he said.
In the fall, the coalition worked with Nia Impact Capital to file a similar proposal at Apple Inc.
setting off a chain of events that resulted in a whistleblower claim against the tech giant. Business Insider reported last month that a former Apple employee filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying that despite the company’s claims that it does not use concealment clauses in employment agreements, she was limited in what she could say when she left the company after experiencing harassment.
Ozoma said the coalition filed these other resolutions because Meta, Alphabet, Amazon, Twitter, IBM and Salesforce did not respond to the coalition’s efforts to engage. Other companies, including Pinterest, Twilio Inc.
and Expensify Inc.
agreed to include language in their global employment contracts that explicitly states workers’ ability to discuss harassment, discrimination or other unlawful conduct after being approached by the group.
Etsy responded to the group, but said it “respectfully” disagreed with the group’s ultimate goal. In an email to the coalition viewed by MarketWatch, Etsy said its employment agreements already give workers the right to talk about potentially unlawful conduct in the workplace. But the company said adopting the language the coalition is requesting does not “make sense” for Etsy, because it wants to protect the employees who may be accused by those who have left.
“If your priority is people who stay, you’re not getting the point,” Ozoma said, adding that those who stay at companies are, in some cases, “the abusers.”
Etsy did not provide comment to MarketWatch by publication time. IBM and Salesforce did not respond, while representatives for Twitter and Amazon declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Alphabet — whose handling of previous sexual-harassment cases sparked the famous Google Walkout in 2018 and prompted changes including waiving mandatory arbitration of harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims — said the company is still evaluating the coalition’s proposal.
A spokesman for Meta said “Meta employee contracts do not include concealment clauses or language preventing them from speaking publicly about concerns,” but prohibits them from talking about proprietary information.
The companies have not announced dates for their annual general meetings next year, but they usually are held in the spring and summer.
The Transparency in Employment Agreements Coalition is made up of Ozoma’s company Earthseed, Whistle Stop Capital, Open MIC and Frontier Technology, and represents investors, civil society organizations and others. The coalition worked with Clean Yield Asset Management to file the resolution at IBM, and with Nia Impact Capital to file at Etsy.