California governor Jerry Brown signed a new bill into law this week that makes so-called “non-disparagement clauses” in most cases no longer binding, releasing consumers from any type of liability related to the writing and posting of negative online reviews. This new law aims to protect California consumers who offer online opinions or reviews of businesses, cracking down on those retailers seeking to stop negative online reviews on public sites such as Yelp! via non-disparagement requirements.
Non-disparagement clauses are often buried in the lengthy terms and conditions that some businesses require customers to sign before they are able to make a purchase. This bill ensures that consumers cannot be penalized for voicing their opinions on services or products they have purchased in a public manner. Assemblyman John A. Pérez is the author of this bill and has promoted it as “an important consumer protection for Californians.”
Under the new law, non-disparagement clauses can still exist and be enforced, but the waiver has to be prominent so that it’s clear that any consumer agreement to it is “knowing, voluntary and intelligent.” In addition, the retailer who wants to enforce the contractual clause in a court of law will have the burden of proving those facts in order to win its case and secure a settlement. Basically, to be legally binding, any non-disparagement agreement needs to be very clear and explicit for both retailer and customer.
The non-disparagement clause bill was among 16 measures signed into law by Governor Brown on Tuesday. Another prominent business measure extends certain protections against discrimination and harassment to those working in unpaid internships. A third bill set to become law this week is a measure giving nearly all California workers at least three days of paid sick leave every year.
Mason, Melanie. “Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Bill Protecting Consumers’ Online Reviews.” Los Angeles Times PolitiCal. 9/9/14.
Sterling, Greg. “New California Law Says Businesses Can’t Stop Consumers from Posting Online Reviews: New Law Takes Aim at So-Called ‘Non-Disparagement’ Clauses.” Marketing Land. 9/11/14.