2023 is in full swing. While everyone is abuzz about ChatGPT taking over the world, a newly divided Congress is finding its sea legs and state capitols are eyeing new regulations. Agencies and courts have taken up hot-button labor and employment matters, from noncompetes to biometric privacy. And not to be left out, the NLRB and the FTC have taken aim at employment contracts and severance agreements.

What will this all mean for employers? There are challenges for sure, but with planning they are manageable. We take a look at the top trends that will shape labor and employment law in the months to come.


More enforcement

Given trends from last year and public messaging from top enforcers, we anticipate an increase in harassment and discrimination litigation, particularly for class-based claims.

In its recently released 2022 Financial Report, the EEO signaled its plan to strengthen enforcement around systemic discrimination. The Agency heralded several victories including obtaining $29.7 million in monetary benefits for victims and collecting over $28 million in damages from 10 lawsuits asserting systemic discrimination last year. Enforcers also recovered a combined $403 million from the Agency’s top 10 settlements of 2022 (nearly doubling rates from the previous year). Highlights include an $18 million settlement with Activision Blizzard over sexual harassment and pregnancy-bias claims and $8 million from Circle K stores over disability and pregnancy discrimination issues.

Even more, the EEOC’s enforcement hike has considerable support from the White House. The President’s proposed budget requests $481 million for the EEOC – a 5.7% increase over its 2023 allocations. While this money is unlikely to materialize in full, it does underscore the growing political support for anti-discrimination and harassment enforcement.

For its part, the workplace plaintiffs’ bar is also seeing historic scores. Last year, plaintiffs won nearly $2 billion combined and saw higher rates of success certifying classes in employment bias, benefits, and wage and hour cases. Top settlements included $597 million from Sterling Jewelers for sex bias claims; $118 million from Google in a pay discrimination dispute; and $185 million between the MLB and minor league players for violations of state and federal wage laws.

Expanded protections

The list of protected classes is growing – quickly. New York added discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status to its prohibitions while Illinois amended its anti-discrimination laws to include “work authorization status.” Seattle passed a first-of-its kind law banning “caste” discrimination while California joined New York in adopting protections based on an employee’s “reproductive health decision making” and off-duty cannabis use. CROWN Act legislation, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture, is also making its way through the states. The Illinois version became effective most recently, on January 1, when the state joined California, New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and several other jurisdictions that have based similar bans. Because these classifications are jurisdiction specific, employers have an added burden of keeping up with numerous changing state and local laws to ensure compliance.

Pregnancy protections are also ramping up. In late December, the Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act took effect, expanding protections for nursing employees under the FLSA. The new law covers both exempt and non-exempt employees, expanding its reach to nearly 9 million more employees, including teachers and nurses. Even more, the federal Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act will take effect this June, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with known limitations connected to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Practical considerations for employers

Watch out for these “hot” areas and be wary if there is an EEOC investigator poking around your company. Be especially careful concerning potential workplace harassment or indications of systemic or ongoing infractions, requests for accommodation (including related to disability and FMLA leave), any accommodations for pregnant persons, and issues of pay disparity. All of these are examples of complaints that can lead to class actions, or large verdicts, so they should be handled carefully.


Maybe it is not surprising to hear that nearly 1 in 4 organizations use artificial intelligence HR tools, according to a 2022 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. Nearly 80 percent use AI for recruiting and hiring. This has sparked backlash from government regulators, who worry this software may run afoul of nondiscrimination laws if it illegally rejects candidates based on a protected characteristic.

In its recently proposed “Strategic Enforcement Plan,” the EEOC makes clear that it will target employers using HR software, including programs that incorporate algorithmic decision-making in recruitment, selection, or production and performance management tools. Last May, the EEOC sued three companies under the “iTutorGroup” umbrella for programming its online recruitment software to reject some older applicants. The agency sought back pay and liquidated damages for more than 200 applicants they say were illegally denied jobs based on age.

States are also taking up this cause. Illinois was the first in 2020, followed by Maryland, to regulate the use of automated decision tools in hiring interviews. New York City moved the goalpost even further with a new law that will require employers to audit certain automated tools for bias and post a number of public disclosures. While that law was set to take effect on January 1, enforcement has been postponed until April 15, 2023 to give regulators time to finalize proposed rules surrounding the law. California regulators have taken similar steps to ensure employers and vendors could face liability under state law, regardless of whether there was discriminatory intent, through a new proposed rulemaking. Even more, the California Consumer Privacy Act recently took effect, expanding data privacy law to cover employees, applicants, and others in the workplace.

Practical considerations for employers

In short, employers will likely need to contend with a growing number of state laws on this issue, compounded by complexities of advertising remote work across several jurisdictions. For businesses using AI, consult with outside counsel (yes, you can call us) to ensure compliance with this legal patchwork. For businesses not formally using AI, be sure to audit whether employees are using AI tools. Clients are increasingly beginning to monitor employee use of various AI tools and create policies around their use in the workplace. Even if a tool is not distributed by the company, it may still raise legal concerns for employers if employees are using it unlawfully for work purposes. New York City employers can read more about the city’s recently passed sweeping AI law here.


Unions are, once again, getting prime political billing in Washington while the NLRB continues its pattern of aggressive enforcement. During the State of the Union, President Biden called on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act and condemned companies for “breaking the law by preventing workers from organizing.” While the Act is unlikely to succeed, this does signal that unions will take center-stage in the upcoming elections.

The NLRB got a $25 million funding boost to its 2023 budget. It had originally requested more than $100 million to account for an increase in its caseload, including an uptick in union representation petitions. In the last year, the NLRB has handed down a host of pro-union decisions and overturned some key Trump-era decisions. This included requiring employers to again deduct union dues after a collective bargaining agreement expired and a major opinion on severance agreements (more on that below).

On the horizon, the NLRB’s general counsel has signaled an interest in reconsidering when an employee is an “independent contractor,” educating the workforce about their rights under federal law, and tackling captive audience meetings.

As unions spread into new, non-traditional industries and we see a general uptick in labor activism (including strikes), the NLRB will likely continue is active role in shaping the workplace.  

Practical considerations for employers

Employers with unions should already be familiar with the NLRB and the requirements of the NLRA. However, be aware that unions are becoming more active, and are looking now to organize pockets of the workforce who may not be unionized yet. Employers without unionized employees should watch out for new union organizing and upcoming rulings from the NLRB impacting all employees, not just those already unionized.


Pay transparency has become a hallmark of the Equal Pay movement. With legislatures around the country enacting a patchwork of new restrictions and obligations, this is becoming a potential landmine for multistate employers.

This started years ago when several jurisdictions enacted laws prohibiting employers from inquiring about an applicant’s salary history. Next, states began requiring employers to disclose compensation ranges to applicants upon request or when making an offer. And now, states including California and New York, are moving the ball even further with laws requiring employers to disclose salary ranges in job postings if the job could be performed in that jurisdiction, including sometimes for internal opportunities. California and Illinois also require some employers to submit their pay data to state agencies. This not only affects how employers negotiate compensation for newcomers, it could also open the door to costly lawsuits should transparency laws unearth potentially discriminatory pay disparities. Even more, some states now prohibit retaliating against an employee for discussing their own or other employees’ pay.

On the federal level, the EEOC has also established pay equity as a main enforcement priority. So as pay ranges become more common on job applications and general anti-discrimination enforcement kicks up, we expect pay transparency issues to be a major focus to come.

Practical considerations for employers

Pay transparency issues can create exposure on multiple fronts for employers, including legal liability and public scrutiny. Employers operating in California and New York should take particular note of local laws, including requirements for job postings and data reporting. This may mean conducting an internal audit, updating hiring templates, and consulting with counsel. Read more of our coverage on laws in New York and California.

EMPLOYEE PRIVACY (Looking at You, Biometrics)

Biometric data has become big business for employers. This includes a host of services that rely on fingerprints, facial scans and voice recognition to do things like verify an employee’s identity, launch automated assistants, access events, or track time. But as these types of tools became more common, regulators took notice.

Illinois was the first state to directly regulated biometric data as a consumer (and employee) privacy matter. We’ve been covering the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) since it first starting making waves for employers in court. Just recently, two monuments state supreme court decisions were handed down that should give any employer operating in the jurisdiction pause. The court made clear that BIPA violations will be tallied by act, not by individual. This means a new violation could accrue every time an employee uses a biometric time clock, potentially several times per work shift, and could open even more cases on this already contentious law. We expect this will lead to even more BIPA-related cases with huge payouts for employees and the plaintiffs’ bar.

Even more, other states are trying their hand at similar types of legislation. Texas and Washington have similar biometric laws, but do not allow for a private right of action. As of this January, Maryland and Mississippi have introduced new biometric privacy bills and other states may follow suit. We will continue to monitor major developments in this area of law as the legislative season moves forward.

Practical considerations for employers

Biometric tools can be very valuable in the workplace, but compliance with related privacy laws is also a challenge. The best advice is get good privacy counsel, as this is an area of the law which has become increasingly complex and specialized. Read more on BIPA – a monster of privacy statute – here.


Noncompetes: An FTC Final Rule on … Maybe?

We’ve covered the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed rule that would ban essentially all noncompete agreements extensively (read more here) as unfair restraints of trade. From the Agency’s vantage, these common contractual provisions illegally suppress competition and employee wages. Before promulgating a final rule, the agency must accept public comment. The deadline to submit comments has been extended several times. Even if the rule is finalized, it will likely face a host of court challenges.

Practical considerations for employers

We’ve covered the FTC’s proposed rulemaking in depth (read that here), but there are some key takeaways for employers:

  • Craft any restrictive covenant with caution. Restrictions on an employee’s post-employment prospects (be it their next job or their ability to “speak out” against their former employer) are increasingly disfavored.
  • Restrictions should be targeted and narrowly tailored to protect an employer’s interests. In other words, try not to use boilerplate agreements, and tailor each agreement to the position or the person who is signing it.
  • Carefully consider who signs a noncompete. This should be limited to senior executives or those who have access to sensitive data or information. Even more, be aware of local laws that could render restrictive convents more difficult to enforce.

Nondisclosures and Non-disparagement

The Biden administration has seemingly adopted a whole-of-government approach to restrictive covenants. Aside from the FTC’s historic rulemaking, the EEOC has identified overly broad waivers, releases, and non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements as priorities for the Agency as barriers to access to the judicial system. And in December, Congress passed the Speak Out Act, which curtailed the use pre-dispute restrictive covenants that would prohibit employees from speaking out against sexual assault or sexual harassment.

The NLRB’s McLaren Macomb decision also took aim at the use of non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses in severance agreements, which may apply to both union and non-union employers. (We covered that here.) And in a recent memo, the Board’s General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued guidance following McLaren. Notably, it reasons that maintaining or enforcing a severance agreement with offending provisions would constitute a continuous violation and suggests employers may avoid liability by notifying former employees that certain provisions are no longer applicable in their severance agreements.

Practical considerations for employers

What to do with existing non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements is a tricky issue, as there is no clear answer here. The “safest” option would be to look at all agreements and revise any agreement that contains a clause which may conflict with these new regulations. However, most clients are taking a “wait and see” attitude. The devil may be in enforcement of agreements in the future, and there may need to be consideration of whether an agreement should be enforced, if it contains a conflicting provision.

As the year unfolds and new laws and regulations come into view, we’ll keep you up-to-date with the major changes and issues you should be thinking about.

There’s been another flip-flop at the National Labor Relations Board. The target this time? Severance agreements.

During the Trump administration, the NLRB issued a set of rulings that generally allowed employers to include confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses in severance agreements. These provisions are used to protect an employer’s reputation from disgruntled former staff while safeguarding the more sensitive details of the agreement (such as compensation) from public view. Last week, the Board wiped the deck with these Trump-era decisions. Now, any such clause may be deemed unlawful if it too broadly restricts a worker’s rights, including to speak out against their former employer.

What does this mean for severance agreements past and future? We take a look.

Continue Reading Talking About The NLRB’s New Rulings on Confidentiality, Non-Disparagement, and Severance Offers

Two momentous decisions regarding the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) recently came down from the Illinois Supreme Court. First, the Court recently ruled in Cothron v. White Castle System Inc. that a BIPA violation occurs with every scan or transmission of biometric data, i.e. a new violation accrues every time an employee uses a biometric time clock, potentially several times per work shift. Many BIPA cases have previously been resolved on the premise that an individual could only accrue one BIPA violation and the damages would be limited to the first time a biometric marker is collected in violation of the statute. Going forward, however, the law of the land has changed and the potential damages are exponentially higher.

Continue Reading BIPA Becomes the Monster Employers Feared

Webinar Invitation

Thursday, February 2, 2023 at 12:30pm ET

The Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) proposed rule banning the use of non-competes with employees and workers could regulate almost all employers in the nation. If this proposal becomes final it could also prohibit non-disclosure, non-solicitation, and non-recruitment agreements that prevent employees from jumping to rivals.  

Join Kelley Drye in a discussion to explore how this proposed rule may impact your company and get practical tips on how employers can prepare for a world with endangered noncompetes.

We will cover the following topics:

  • What exactly would the proposed rule prohibit?
  • Could a rule this sweeping become final?
  • What can we expect in the next several months?
  • What should employers do to prepare? 

To RSVP for this webinar, please click here.

The FTC’s proposal to ban noncompete clauses is vulnerable to challenge. Kelley Drye’s Antitrust and Competition attorneys (who are also former FTC officials) share their thoughts on the most significant concerns. Read more on the agency’s authority to propose this ban, how to engage in the rulemaking, and what challenges we’re likely to see in the courts. – https://www.adlawaccess.com/2023/01/articles/the-ftcs-proposal-to-ban-noncompetes-is-on-shaky-legal-ground/

When the FTC proposes a rule that could regulate nearly every employer in the nation, we take notice. In this second installment of our series on the FTC’s proposed rule to ban noncompete agreements, we provide a pragmatic look at the road ahead.

What has the FTC actually proposed? How can individual firms and industry groups alike weigh in on one of the most substantial regulatory actions facing employers right now? And what should businesses do to prepare? Here’s your deep dive. 

Continue Reading FTC Insights: How Employers Can Prepare for a World Without Noncompetes

On January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission announced a sweeping proposal to regulate virtually every labor and service relationship in the United States, and make it more lucrative for people to quit. leave their current jobs by removing the enforceability of non-compete clauses. If a final rule emerges from this proposal, virtually every employer in the United States will be impacted.

William Macleod, chair of Kelley Drye’s Antitrust and Competition practice and former bureau director at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) weighs in to address the broad implication of this proposal, the thinking behind the agency’s proposal, whether or not the agency can change course, and what will happen if a final rule emerges?  Click here to read more – https://www.adlawaccess.com/2023/01/articles/ftc-proposes-to-regulate-virtually-every-labor-relationship-in-the-united-states/#more-11287

An ideologically recalibrated National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) implemented an important right for labor unions who seek to organize a bargaining unit comprising less than a full complement of a location’s workers. Whether union organizers face significant opt-out rates among the workforce or there are other legitimate reasons to exclude portions of the employee complement, the path to unionization became much easier after the NLRB’s December 14, 2022 decision.

Who Needs to Keep Reading?

Any employer nationwide preparing for, concerned about, or currently involved in union organizing activity within their workforce. This decision will likely affect the strategies taken to combat organizing efforts and to contest them before the NLRB.

Continue Reading Ideologically Recalibrated NLRB Restocks Union Organizing Toolbox

In a notable victory for the #MeToo movement, President Biden recently signed the “Speak Out Act” into law. It became effective December 7, 2022.

This bipartisan legislation targets and effectively prohibits the use of pre-dispute nondisclosure agreements, which would cover claims of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. The law only prohibits enforcement of pre-dispute agreements, which means employers can still utilize NDAs in post-dispute agreements, such as settlements.

Many states, like New York, have already passed laws restricting the use of NDA’s in settlement agreements, so depending on the state where you are located, this may not be a major change. But for employment attorneys and HR professionals, this should be a signal to review all new employment contracts. In a broader sense, you may have to revisit how your company responds to workplace sexual harassment and assault allegations now that it has become more difficult to quietly resolve.     

Here’s what you need to know:

What does the Speak Out Act do, exactly?

Under the Act:   

  • Any agreement to keep the details of any future sexual harassment or assault dispute confidential is unenforceable. This applies to all employment contracts: past, present, or future.
  • Any prospective nondisparagement clause that purports to limit an employee’s ability to speak out about sexual harassment or assault is also unenforceable.
  • Trade secrets and proprietary information are explicitly protected under the law and employers may use NDAs to safeguard this information.
  • States may continue to enforce laws that are more protective of an employee’s right to speak publicly about sexual assault and harassment.

Throughout the #MeToo era, NDAs have come under fire for preventing victims from speaking publicly but remain commonly used in hiring, promotion, and severance contracts. In fact, approximately one third of workers have signed broader agreements not to disparage their employers or disclose details of their employment.

Despite its seemingly clear purpose, the Act’s ambiguities are likely fodder for future court challenges. For instance, the law targets only “pre-dispute” agreements but does not define the term. This means courts may interpret a “dispute” to include a narrow set of actions (such as a formal complaint or even litigation) or broader swath (say an informal HR complaint).

Also, the law does not specify what a company must do to address existing employment agreements which may contain clauses that violate the new law.  We would advise leaving those agreements in place, as trying to get new agreements signed again could be impossible. Just be aware that a requirement of an NDA could be unenforceable.

The Act also looks to other federal, tribal, or state law in defining the terms “sexual assault” and “sexual harassment. ” Notably, in 2020, the Supreme Court interpreted Title VII’s sex protections to include protection against discrimination based sexual orientation and gender identity. The scope of these definitions may be contended.  And while the law does not prohibit the use of NDAs in other contexts, such racial bias or disability, discrimination claims are often intersectional and contain several allegations. For now, employers may be wise to interpret the Act broadly.

How does this compare to state law trends?

The federal law creates a floor, not a ceiling. More than a dozen states have already passed legislation limiting employee NDAs, including California and New York.  

California: California has severely limited NDA enforcement for all forms of workplace harassment and discrimination.  The state prohibits confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment that prevent an employee from disclosing most unlawful workplace conduct. And unlike the federal law, California’s law also bans confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements that prohibit an employee from discussing the underlying facts of the case. Agreements to protect the worker’s identity or safeguard the amount paid are permitted. Again, California law applies to all forms of harassment and discrimination, including sex, religion, color, national origin, disability, familial status, gender, age and others.

New York: The Empire State has similarly outlawed agreements that prevent the employee from disclosing the underlying facts and circumstances related to an employment discrimination claim. Like California, the legislation originally applied only to sex discrimination, but was expanded in subsequent iterations. New York lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would ban most NDA and nondisparagement clauses that prevent disclosure of harassment or discrimination in employment contracts.  

What should employers do now?

The Speak Out Act is hardly the first of its kind. Last March, Congress passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, prohibiting enforcement of any pre-dispute arbitration agreement in these types of cases. With these trends in federal and state law, employers must take action:

  • Update your new employment contracts. While the law does not prohibit broad agreements full-stop, HR departments should review new agreements and ‘form’ agreements, to ensure they will withstand legal scrutiny. You do not need to change or try to get existing agreements signed anew.  Just be aware that a requirement of an NDA is likely not enforceable.  
  • Refresh your training materials and HR response policies. Ensure your company’s response is in compliance with federal and state laws. This includes training supervisors and updating company policies.
  • Consult counsel. Speak with an attorney if you have any questions about this new federal law or your obligations under state law.

We’re monitoring employment law trends on Capitol Hill and across the nation. Subscribe to stay up-to-date with the legal developments that will most impact your company in the months to come.

Continue Reading The Fall of the NDA: Compliance and Litigation Following the Speak Out Act

A wave of labor strikes in October of 2021 led experts to dub the month “Striketober.” And this year, we saw the trend continue as companies across the nation faced a number of work stoppages through late-September and October. As the second Striketober comes to an end, we look at the general trends in labor organizing and what employers should expect in the months ahead.

First, the Supreme Court is poised to take action. The Court recently agreed to consider a case at the heart of the right to strike: Can employers sue unions in state court when strikes cause economic harm, such as destruction of property?

The case arises from a dispute between a cement company and its truck drivers in Washington state. Contract negotiations between the local Teamsters union and employer, Glacier Northwest, had broken down. In August of 2017, union leaders instructed drivers to bring their trucks back to the yard and strike. According to the company, the union intentionally timed this so that the concrete in the trucks had already been mixed, which could solidify in the drums and destroy them. The union countered that the trucks were left running so the concrete wouldn’t harden. Glacier Northwest sued the union to recover damages.

This will be the Court’s first major labor decision since 2018. If the judges side with the Glacier Northwest, it will likely open the door to more litigation between unions and employers when labor action causes economic harm to an employer. Be sure to look out for an alert when this case is decided. Continue Reading The Supreme Court and Lessons from “Striketober”: What Should Employers Expect?