DOJ requires employee’s to sign nondisclosures, employee lawyer calls move “unusal”

MADISON (WKOW) — Attorney General Brad Schimel is facing criticism after his agency sent an email last month instructing DOJ employees to sign nondisclosure agreements.

The agreements are aimed at preventing employees from revealing confidential information, but one employment lawyer said he’s never heard of a state government agency requiring staff to sign these.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Aug. 10, that DOJ staffers were sent an email for them to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which included a spreadsheet with names of 129 employees who had yet to sign the statement. While the document is broad, it requires employees to not only sign it while working there, but even if they leave for another job.

This comes to light after three of Gov. Scott Walker’s former aids are speaking out against his administration in support of his Democratic opponent Tony Evers.

Michael R. Fox is the managing partner at Fox & Fox S.C. and handles employment disputes. Fox said while it’s normal to see these types of agreements with the CIA or higher up government, it’s rare on the state level.

“Employees have a right to speak out and could potentially refuse to sign the document. By in large it’s not needed or supported by law,” Fox said.

Donald Downs, UW-Madison Professor of Political Science, Law and Journalism said down the road this could become more frequent as we see President Trump’s administration already doing similar practices for employees to “stay quiet” if government secrets are revealed. Downs believes it can infringe on employee’s first amendment rights.

“Government does need to protect certain secrets and services, but it usually deals with highly sensitive matters,” Downs said. “This is really subject to abuse unless it becomes much more fined tuned and justified.”

A spokesperson from Schimel’s office said the measure is not connected to the upcoming election and the office was updating policies. When asked why it was needed, DOJ argues many times employee’s deal with sensitive and confidential information.

“The updating of the NDA process long preceded the political announcement or the release of Ed Wall’s (former Secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections) book others have referenced,” said Alec Hanna, DOJ’s Public Information Officer. “DOJ has always had policies requiring staff to maintain the confidentiality of certain information irrespective of the First Amendment or public record laws.”

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin said this move silences employee’s and their rights.

“Whether he’s trying to hide records of his travels to a hate group’s conference or implementing policies to keep his failures secret, Brad Schimel has created a culture of secrecy at his Department of Justice. Wisconsin needs a new attorney general who is committed to transparency and fighting corruption,” said DPW spokesperson Courtney Beyer.

Schimel’s opponent Josh Kaul tweeted out after hearing the news.

Emilee Fannon

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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