New “Stop Woke” Act is on Hold for Now-But it Could Affect Your Business
In 2022, the State of Florida passed the “Stop Woke Act,” a law that is controversial, political, and which currently is making its way through the court system because of numerous challenges to its content. But regardless of what you think about it politically, if you’re a business owner, it is important to know how the law could affect you—if, in fact, it is found to be constitutional.
Effect on Employers
The law gained a lot of publicity because it applies not only to employment, but also to institutions of higher learning. But although the higher learning and college aspects of the law got the most publicity when the law was first passed, it is the law’s restrictions on training in the workplace that are being challenged in the federal courts.
What the Law Restricts
The law says that an employer cannot require an employee, as a condition of employment, to engage in any training or instructional program that requires, espouses, or advances, beliefs such as:
- Any individual because of his or her race, is inherently racist or sexist
- That national origin dictates whether someone is privileged or oppressed
- An individual should not be discriminated against, or made to feel shame, or guilt, because of discrimination that may have happened in the past or that someone bears responsibility for historically racist or sexist activities
The law allows discussion of these kinds of topics in the workplace, it just prohibits discussion in the ways stated, which the state contends are not objective. Additionally, the law technically does not prohibit any of the above activities or ideas—it just prohibits making attendance at any meetings or training mandatory for employees, where the above ideas are discussed or provided.
The law allows employees to sue for damages, should the employee be subjected to trainings or instruction at work that violates the law.
What About Free Speech?
At issue is whether or not these restrictions are a violation of free speech. Businesses (and universities, although they aren’t part of the appeal), say that they are. They say that if an employer engages in some kinds of speech (the speech that is restricted under the law), the employer will be punished. If they say what the state wants them to say, or refrain from saying what the state does not, then they are fine. As such, the Plaintiffs argue, the law is textbook first amendment violation.
But the state has a different take—they say that the law has nothing to do with speech; the law regulates conduct, specifically, requiring employees to go to meetings or training that contain the messages the law restricts.
On a challenge, one court enjoined (prevented) the state from enforcing the law, until the case could be decided. That decision is now on appeal with the eleventh circuit court of appeals. The final fate of the law likely won’t be determined for some time.
Call our West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today if you have questions about employees, corporate trainings, or employee policies in the workplace.