Reading the fine print of a contract can be a daunting task, but here’s yet another reason to read before you sign.
“In many cases, consumers are being challenged in leaving reviews on review sites or sharing their opinion of what interactions they had with businesses, because they’ve signed contracts or agreements with certain businesses that limit their free speech,” said Greg Dunn, CEO of the Hawaii Better Business Bureau.
Dunn says he’s seen an uptick in businesses inserting non-disparagement clauses into contracts, essentially barring someone from leaving a negative review about a business online.
A couple in Texas was recently sued for a million dollars after they posted a negative review online. The business claimed the couple violated a non-disparagement clause in the contract they signed. The case was later dismissed in court.
“The businesses can include those points in their contract if they so desire,” Dunn said. “It’s certainly not in the best interest of the consumers and many people are unwittingly falling prey to lawsuits.”
So far, California is the only state that bans the use of non-disparagement clauses.
Nationally, legislators, including U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D, Hawaii, have introduced legislation that would ban businesses from inserting such language into contracts.
“Certainly free speech is number one in this case,” Dunn said. “Consumers should have the right to tell their story, to tell how they were treated, so that other consumers would know that hey, this is a good business to work with or this is a business perhaps you might want to avoid or steer clear of.”
Dunn says when it comes to signing a contract, it’s always a good idea to read it before you sign it. And if you’re unsure, ask questions so you understand exactly what you’re agreeing to.
If you have a consumer concern or are interested in becoming an Action Line volunteer, give us a call at 591-0222 weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or send an email to email@example.com.