The two women are talking in what appears to be a café.
One is comforting — and educating — her distraught friend, who apparently is the subject of harassment at work, but fears the nondisclosure agreement she signed will prevent her from speaking out.
The good friend then explains a new law of the land.
“I don’t think the NDA is going to be your problem,” she says. “You need to check with a lawyer, but there’s this little thing called the Speak Out Act.
“An NDA can prevent you from talking about work product — like intellectual property (contracts and deals) — but any contract that restricts your ability to talk about how you’ve been treated, like misconduct in the workplace or sexual harassment … can’t be enforced anymore.”
The conversation, which took place last week on an episode of “General Hospital,” brings the basics of the Speak Out Act into the mainstream in a way its proponents could have never dreamed. In one moment, more than 2 million viewers got a quick education in an act that was signed into law by President Joe Biden last December.
Julie Roginsky, along with Gretchen Carlson and others who pushed for the bill, were thrilled when they suddenly began getting texts and calls about the made-for-TV moment.
Roginsky described the moment this way.
“We almost fell out of our chairs,” she said. “I guess the writers at ‘General Hospital’ are much more aware of what’s going on in Washington than everybody else, and worked it into a storyline.
“The fact that this legislation was just signed in December and now they’re working it into a storyline is tremendous.”
The #SpeakOutAct, championed by @LiftOurVoicesUS @GretchenCarlson @julieroginsky, is protecting workers from silencing mechanisms – and even got a shoutout on @ABC’s @GeneralHospital yesterday! Check it out: pic.twitter.com/1fCoS2HTOm
— Lift Our Voices (@LiftOurVoicesUS) March 3, 2023
The Speak Out Act, which prevents the enforcement of nondisclosure agreements in instances of sexual assault and harassment, was one of the many byproducts of the #MeToo movement.
Introduced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), it was approved in the Senate unanimously, and in the House by a 315-109 margin. It was signed into law by Biden on Dec. 7.
The bill followed similar legislation, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, in March 2022, which bans the enforcement of arbitration clauses and class-action waivers in cases of sexual harassment.
Roginsky said getting the bills written, posted and passed was a monumental achievement.
“We had been working nonstop the last several years,” she said.
For all their success, Roginsky acknowledges that the group’s work is just beginning. Educating workers about their rights is the next challenge — for neither bill requires employers to tell their employees that such provisions in their NDAs no longer are enforceable.
“We’ve been trying to make people as aware as we possibly can,” she said.
The group has highly targeted “Know Your Rights” digital campaigns — and has plans to do more, Roginsky said.
Here’s the catch: Roginsky said the new law is something businesses should be promoting. It not only would serve as a key attraction-and-retention tool, but as a vehicle for increasing the bottom line, she said.
Roginsky explained how.
“It’s been proven beyond dispute that companies with a diverse workforce — and that includes women and people of color — do better financially,” she said. “It is demonstrably true.”
Roginsky said studies also show this: Women and people of color, female and male, are the groups most likely to be harassed in the workplace. If you have a culture where this is tolerated, those groups likely will leave, even with these laws in place.
“So, you’re driving out the very people who are going to prove your bottom line,” she said.
Laws are great. But only if people know about them, Roginsky said.
“It’s incredibly important for this to become something that every worker in America is fully aware of,” she said.
That’s why the “General Hospital” moment was so important, Roginsky said.
It wasn’t just the 2 million-plus viewers, but the background of those viewers.
“I’m very pleased that this story has gone so national, and in a place that is not just your typical political news outlets, but a place that is as culturally significant to a different demographic as ‘General Hospital,’” she said.
Roginsky admits she is not a regular viewer of soaps — and hasn’t been since the Luke and Laura days (if you know, you know). But, she said she has nothing but respect for the progressive nature of the industry.
“They’ve always tended to be much more ahead of the cultural zeitgeist than anybody else,” she said. “They had some of the earliest LGBTQ characters on air well before any other TV shows. Soap operas have always been that way.”
Here’s another characteristic they have: Because they need to feed a daily audience, their storylines tend to go on for months and years.
In other words, made-for-TV-moments featuring the Speak Out Act could become a regular occurrence.
Roginsky certainly hopes so.
“The fact that ‘General Hospital’ just got the word out is tremendously important,” she said. “Two million people who watch the show and may not have been aware of it are now aware of it. Hopefully, they will tell their friends and their colleagues about it.”
That reach is incredible, Roginsky said. She hopes it continues.
“Gretchen Carlson and I are blessed — we have a very loud megaphone, because of our profiles, to be able to talk about this,” she said. “But it’s not enough to just have the two of us talking about it, or to have members of Congress talking about it, or to have these constant educational campaigns that we’re putting forward.
“‘General Hospital’ did us a massive favor. It was certainly not asked for, but we are incredibly grateful to them that they did.”