It has become extremely common, if not standard practice, for employers to include non-disparagement clauses in settlement agreements and severance packages they offer to their former employees. These provisions prohibit employees from saying anything negative about their former employers. They are extremely broad, since they prohibit true but negative statements and opinions. In addition, they typically prohibit employees from saying anything negative not just about the company itself, but also about its current and previous owners, directors, officers, employees, subsidiaries and parent companies.
The unfortunate reality is that many employees who sign severance agreements either have not read the entire agreement or do not understand or appreciate many of its provisions. Even individuals who realize they are being asked not to say anything negative about their former employers generally have no choice but to agree if they want the severance pay and other benefits that have been offered to them. Of course, for someone who has recently lost his or her job it can be difficult to reject a severance offer over something like a non-disparagement clause. As a result, employees regularly agree not to disparage their former employers.
A recent article in the New York Time, Laid-Off Americans, Required to Zip Lips on Way Out, Grow Bolder, indicates that there is a growing backlash against non-disparagement clauses. For example, it indicates that several prominent Democrat and Republican members of Congress have questioned the widespread use and misuse of non-disparagement agreements.