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Whitmer Signs Separation Agreement Directive

Gretchen Whitmer wearing a pink mask receiving a COVID-19 booster shot from a nurse in a black vest
Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer received a COVID-19 booster shot at the beginning of November.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive on Friday. It lays out when and how confidentiality clauses can be used in employee separation agreements.

Whitmer said the purpose is to promote transparency, but it does not bar the use of confidentiality clauses in separation deals.

Deborah Gordon is an employment and labor attorney.

“She is stating that you cannot keep the existence of any agreement confidential. I have many settlement agreements that come into my office where a clause in the settlement agreement is that my client cannot even reveal the existence of an agreement,” she said.

Gordon said this bans the state from forcing an employee to agree to a confidentiality deal.

“Here, at least at the state level, according to this directive from the governor, they cannot put language in here which denies a party the right or opportunity to discuss the underlying facts or circumstances of what happened,” said Gordon.

That’s after criticism directed toward Whitmer – much of it from legislative Republicans.

Republican lawmakers say the directive does not go far enough, and they will hold hearings to try to get more information about settlement deals with at least three former Whitmer administration officials.

They all played central roles in the state’s COVID-19 response.

That’s despite the fact that the Legislature has also used confidential separation agreements.

“I understand why from a public policy point of view people want to understand why severance money is being paid,” Gordon said.

Legislative Republicans say they will continue to try to pry loose details of what they’re calling “hush money” deals with former officials involved with the state’s COVID-19 response.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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