Apple removes gag clauses related to workplace harassment after independent counsel review

Back in March, the majority of Apple shareholders voted for an independent review of how the company has handled situations like employees speaking up about sensitive issues. Now that the investigation is complete, Apple has announced that it is eliminating its gag clauses related to workplace discrimination and abuse.

First reported by the Financial Times, Apple’s board shared about the change in a letter titled “Our Commitment to an Open and Collaborative Workplace.” Specifically, the company said “it is committed to ‘a safe, inclusive and respective work environment’ and that ’employees have the right to speak freely about their workplace conditions.'”

Amid activist groups like Together calling on its employer for change, Apple’s board investigated allegations that the company restricted staff from talking about issues like discrimination and abuse. That was due to a successful petition from the chief executive of Nia Capital, Kristin Hull plus the Minderoo Foundation rallying more than 50% of Apple shareholders to vote for the third-party inquiry in March.

In the review, an independent counsel discovered multiplied instances “in which the $2.3trn company may have restricted employees from speaking out on sensitive issues.”

Hull says Apple removing the gag clauses is “huge” and applies both in the US and abroad:

“Apple has agreed to remove concealment clauses from employee contracts, both for full-time employees, as well as for contract workers,” she said. “That is huge in itself. Then the fact that this commitment spans for US as well as international workers is also groundbreaking and should set the trend for the rest of US-based companies.”

For its part, Apple said restricting “a person’s ability to speak about [unlawful] conduct” were only found in “limited instances,” and that it “committed to not enforce those restrictions and to make improvements and clarifications going forward.”

All of this comes after Apple saw significant backlash in 2021 from employees who formed the AppleToo movement which included 500 allegations of racism, sexism, discrimination, retaliation, and more.

Overall, the board’s letter says Apple’s legal, brand, financial, and human capital risks are “low”:

“Based on the results from our review of Apple’s policies, practices, and documents, and our practice of not enforcing any provision that would reasonably be interpreted as restricting a person’s ability to discuss harassment, discrimination, or other workplace conduct believed to be unlawful, we have assessed the risks to Apple, including legal, brand, financial, and human capital risks, and believe them to be low.”

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Naveen Kumar

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