Employers have been trying to include non-disparagement clauses in employment exit agreements for a long time but they seem to have gained some popularity recently. The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece, "Fired? Speak No Evil", by a laid-off employee, Will Blythe, which spotlighted the issue even further.
Mr. Blythe's former employer fired him and then provided him a severance agreement containing a non-disparagement clause - for Mr. Blythe to "never make any negative or disparaging statements" about the company, its directors, shareholders, remaining employees, products, etc. If Mr. Blythe did not sign the clause, he would not receive his two weeks of severance pay. Mr. Blythe questioned the necessity of that part of his termination and the company president assured him that these types of clauses were perfectly ordinary in the business world. So why did Mr. Blythe end up not signing his agreement, and forgoing two weeks of pay? He wanted his own perfectly ordinary ability to speak his mind.
Employers have been increasingly including these disparagement clauses in settlement agreements and termination or severance agreements like in Mr. Blythe's case. These clauses seek to prevent employees from speaking about their former employer in exchange for some amount of severance or money. They may be as simple as one or two sentences, saying something like "You agree not to disparage or negatively comment on the Employer, its officers and management, and/or current or former employees." Often these clauses also include that violations for an employee disparaging or negatively commenting ends up costing the employee the entire severance or money he received or the employee may even be subject to penalties called liquidated damages.