The Stop WOKE Act prohibits employers from requiring employees to participate in certain types of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. The bill was recently passed by the Florida House and Senate; Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law shortly.
Florida HB 7 would make it an unlawful employment practice under Florida law to “[subject] any individual, as a condition of employment . . . to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe” a defined list of concepts related to DEI.
The “prohibited concepts” listed in the bill are as follows:
However, the bill states that it should not be construed to “prohibit discussion of the concepts listed . . . as part of a course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”
The bill would be enforced in the same manner as Florida’s existing employment civil rights protections. A person who believes his or her rights were violated may file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations within 365 days of the alleged violation and then, in most cases, pursue a civil or administrative action. Remedies available under the law include injunctive relief, back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages (not to exceed $100,000).
The Florida attorney general is also empowered to bring civil actions for damages, injunctive relief, and fines not to exceed $10,000 per violation when the attorney general has cause to belief an employer engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination or otherwise engaged in discrimination that violates the law and raises issues of “great public interest.”
If the bill is signed into law, employers operating in Florida will need to evaluate existing training programs to determine whether they “espouse, promote, advance, inculcate, or compel” (i.e., encourage) participants to believe any of the prohibited concepts.
If a training program encourages participants to believe any of the prohibited concepts, then an employer would be prohibited from making such training “a condition of employment.” In other words, an employer could no longer require an employee to participate in any DEI training course that promotes any of the prohibited concepts. An employer could still offer the trainings, however, on a voluntary basis. The key point is that the training cannot be mandatory.
As noted above, the bill does not bar employers from mandating trainings that mention these topics altogether. It only prohibits trainings that espouse, promote, advance, inculcate, or compel employees to believe those concepts. Thus, a training that presents the prohibited concepts objectively, without endorsement of the concepts presented in the training, would likely pass muster under the bill.
One potential way to mitigate risk would be to include disclaimers noting that the employer does not endorse any particular concept related to discrimination and that trainings are provided purely for education and are not intended to compel employees to believe any of the concepts discussed.
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