Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 7, dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which stands for “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.” The stated purpose of the new law is to protect individual freedoms and prevent discrimination in the workplace and in public schools. The measure expands an employer’s civil liability for discriminatory employment practices under the Florida Civil Rights Act if the employer endorses certain concepts in a “non-objective manner” during training or other required activity that is a condition of employment.
The law is expected to come into force on July 1, 2022, but its fate remains uncertain. A lawsuit has already been filed in federal court for the Northern District of Florida challenging HB 7 on a variety of grounds, including that it violates employers’ free speech rights.
HB 7 states that subjecting an employee to on-the-job training that “embraces, promotes, advances, inculcates or compels the employee to believe” certain concepts constitutes unlawful discrimination.
The law expands Florida Statutes Section 760.10 of the Florida Civil Rights Act to state that it is discriminatory to subject a person, as a condition of employment, to training that endorses any of the concepts following:
- Members of one race, color, sex or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex or national origin .
- An individual, because of their race, color, sex or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously.
- An individual’s moral character or status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by race, color, sex or national origin.
- Members of one race, color, sex or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect for their race, color, sex or national origin.
- An individual, because of race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.
- An individual, because of their race, color, gender or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive unfavorable treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion.
- An individual, by virtue of race, color, sex or national origin, bears personal responsibility and must experience guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of acts , in which he played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.
- Virtues such as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial color blindness are racist or sexist or were created by members of one race, color, of a particular sex or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex. , or of national origin.
HB 7 also states that it does not prohibit discussion of the above concepts as part of an employer’s course of training or instruction, so long as such training or instruction is given in an “objective manner without the endorsement of these concepts.
HB 7 applies to public and private employers with at least 15 employees. In addition to the workplace, the bill prohibits the teaching in public schools of similar concepts.
Despite the ongoing lawsuit, employers should review their training programs on diversity, inclusion, bias, equal employment opportunity and harassment prevention, for example, to understand the potential implications of the new law. They must also understand the potential risks associated with disciplining or dismissing employees who refuse to participate in mandatory training programs, even if employers do not consider the programs to violate the new law.
© 2022 Jackson LewisNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 119