By: Jeremy Rogers, Esq.
What could this mean for employers?
Earlier in March, the Florida Legislature passed HB 7, also known as the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act.” The bill now sits on Governor DeSantis’ desk and is expected to be signed into law. By amending the Florida Civil Rights Act, the Stop WOKE Act prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from conducting “training, instruction, or any other required activity” that promotes, advances or compels the following concepts… (note: demographic = race, color, sex, or national origin):
- Members of one demographic are morally superior.
- An individual, by virtue of his or her demographic is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her demographic.
- Members of one demographic cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin.
- An individual, by virtue of his or her demographic, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of actions committed in the past by other members of the same demographic.
- An individual, by virtue of his or her demographic, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.
- An individual bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same demographic.
- Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular demographic to oppress members of another demographic.
The bill is similar to a 2020 Executive Order from President Trump, which was met with legal challenges. An injunction was placed on the Executive Order by Federal Court, and ultimately the Executive Order was removed by President Biden. In case the Stop WOKE Act faces similar legal challenges, the bill articulates that if any provision is found unlawful, it does not affect the legitimacy of the remaining provisions.
StraightforWARD Legal Advice:
Given the penalties that Florida employers could face for violating the Stop WOKE Act (back pay, compensatory damages up to $100,000 & attorney’s fees), it’s important that they examine their policies. While many employers may be prevented from carrying out training in the manner they did in the past, there are two noteworthy exceptions:
- Only required activities are prohibited – Employers may continue to hold voluntary activities which promote, advance, or compel the previously mentioned concepts.
- These concepts may be discussed – These concepts may continue to be discussed in mandatory workplace activities, as long as they are discussed in an “objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”
That being said, employers should be very careful in taking on these subjects. There is a tightrope to be walked, especially when taking on whether the concepts may be discussed and whether those discussions are objective.