Interns in the Kansas Statehouse are required to sign a sweeping confidentiality agreement that employment law attorneys warn could have a chilling effect on their willingness to report harassment or illegal activity.
Anything that takes place or is said in a lawmaker’s office stays there, the document says, under threat of immediate termination.
“It does not say anything about sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior being excluded from its terms, which it should,”
Confidentiality almost always benefits the harasser, said Kelly McCambridge, a Kansas City area employment law attorney.
It would be easy to make clear in the contract that confidentiality does not apply to reports of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting discrimination or for whistleblowing, McCambridge said in an email.
Kansas’ intern confidentiality agreement does not make such allowances.
McCambridge said the document could be used as a shield to discourage student interns from reporting sexual harassment “and a sword in order to shut down or silence a student intern that has come forward with a complaint of sexual harassment.”
Nelson, the Overland Park attorney, said the students “are vulnerable, wide-eyed enthusiasts.”
State officials “are dealing with teenagers and acting as if they are addressing lawyers,” he said in an email.
Officials apparently haven’t paid enough attention to amend the confidentiality agreement to reflect changing policies, laws or mores, Nelson said.
“It’s offensive,” he said. “These people are supposed to be the leaders of the state of Kansas. They come off as anything but that.”