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Florida’s Stop Woke Act

Floridas-Stop-Woke-Act

Florida's Stop Woke Act
How New Law Affects Employers

Florida’s controversial “Stop WOKE Act” (“the Act”) took effect today, July 1, 2022, and it has already survived one attempt at keeping the law from taking effect. The Act made national headlines when it passed earlier this year due to its restrictions on what Florida schools are allowed to teach. However, it also applies to Florida employers with 15 or more employees company-wide and will impact such employers who have implemented, or want to implement, mandatory diversity or sensitivity training for their employees.

The Act amends the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) to add a new basis for discrimination claims by prohibiting employers from requiring employees to attend mandatory trainings including and promoting belief in certain prohibited concepts. Employees who believe their employers’ trainings violate the Act may file administrative discrimination complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR), and potentially civil suits against their employers for damages under the FCRA.

What the Act Prohibits
Specifically, the Act makes it unlawful for any Florida employer with 15 or more employees to subject any employee to training that “espouses or promotes” the belief that any of the below concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin:

  • Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin.
  • An individual, by virtue of their race, color, sex, or national origin, 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 their race, color, sex, or national origin.
  • Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin.
  • An individual, by virtue of their race, color, sex, or national origin, 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 race, color, sex, or national origin.
  • An individual, by virtue of their race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.
  • An individual, by virtue of their race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no role, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.
  • 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 race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex, or national origin.

However, the Act also states these prohibitions “may not be construed to prohibit discussion” of the above-listed concepts “provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”

What Does This Mean for Employers in Florida?

The Act only applies to employee trainings that employers make mandatory for their employees to attend. Optional trainings are not covered by the Act. For those employers who wish to mandate diversity and inclusion trainings for their employees, the language of the Act is frustratingly vague and broad, making it difficult for employers to know exactly what they can or cannot say in these trainings. For example, what instruction could be seen as intending to cause employees to “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” and how will it be determined whether the person “played no role” in the discriminatory behaviors being discussed?

Employers with employees in Florida should evaluate their existing employee training programs, especially those focused on diversity and antidiscrimination policies, to ensure that they do not run afoul of the Act. While employers may discuss important concepts like unconscious bias, “colorblindness” (that one “does not see color”), “privilege, and “microagressions,”these discussions must be carefully tailored so as to not violate the Act.

Given the uncertainty for employers as to the scope of the Act, those with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives should review the scope of their training, as well as the contents of anti-harassment and other workplace diversity policies, with their employment attorneys.

Florida small businesses with questions about the “Stop WOKE” Act, or any other Florida or federal employment law, should make an appointment to speak with one of The Goodwin Firm’s experienced employment law attorneys by calling 727.316.5333 today.

 

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