On April 22, 2022, Florida signed into law the “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act,” which aims to regulate how schools and businesses handle discussions surrounding race, gender, and discrimination. Though a federal lawsuit has been filed challenging the constitutionality of the Act, the Act is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2022. Ahead of the upcoming deadline, we discuss how the Act may impact Florida employees and actions employers may want to take in response.
Stop WOKE Act
The Act makes it an unlawful employment practice under Florida law to subject any individual, as a condition of employment, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe” a list of 8 general concepts related to race, color, sex, and national origin. For example, one such prohibited concept is that “[a]n individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish…because of action, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”
It is important to note that the Act does not prohibit workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) trainings and does not prohibit a discussion of the 8 concepts if they are part of a course of training or instruction and “provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”
The Act will be enforced similarly to other Florida employment civil rights laws. Employees can file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and file a civil lawsuit for injunctive relief, back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages of up to $100,000. In addition, the Florida attorney general can bring a civil action for injunctive relief, damages, and fines up to $10,000 per violation if they find the employer violated the law in issues of “great public interest.”
Impact on Employers
Employers may want to review any mandatory DE&I trainings provided to Florida employees to determine compliance with the Act ahead of the July 1st effective date.
The Act is written in a manner that lends itself to different interpretations of what discussions related to race, color, sex, and national origin may run afoul of the law. As such, employers may want to work closely with employment counsel and consider their risk tolerance when reviewing any current DE&I trainings and when broaching these topics in the future.
Employers should also be on the lookout for legal challenges to the law that may delay or overturn the implementation of the law.