Consumers have a right to speak freely about their experiences with brands, products, services, and each other. But as we learned firsthand, large corporations concerned about negative attention may try to get customers to sign away that right. And if you're not paying attention, you may not even realize it's happening to you.
As we explained, a Verizon technician came to our house to repair a downed cable wire and damaged our decorative arbor. The company agreed to reimburse us for a replacement, but its third-party claims administrator Sedgwick tried to force us to sign a release that included confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses. We crossed out the confidentiality and non-disclosure paragraphs, notarized, signed, and emailed it back.
The claims rep would not accept the amended release, and Verizon and Sedgwick pointed the finger at the other telling us there was nothing they could do. We were at an impasse, because we refused to sign a contract with a shockingly overreaching non-disparagement clause.
Three days after publishing the post about the incident, in-house counsel for Verizon left a message for us to tell us it was approving payment for the replacement arbor and would accept our amended release. She also said she wanted to address any concerns we had. The check for the full amount arrived on November 29.
While the immediate situation is resolved, we do have concerns. Will Verizon and its claims administrator change its practice going forward? Does Sedgwick have the non-disparagement clause in releases of its other clients? Is this a practice that large corporations and insurance companies have widely instituted? And a particular concern for online sellers - where else might non-disparagement clauses be lurking?
The incident shows how sensitive large corporations are to negative attention - and that's the very reason why you should be careful not to sign away your right to speak freely and honestly about products, services, and companies. As we referenced in the blog post, Congress even passed a law protecting consumers from certain types of non-disparagement clauses (in form contracts).
Sometimes all people have when dealing with corporate roadblocks is the ability to speak out, but some corporations will go to great lengths to muzzle consumers with boilerplate releases. When you see something, speak up and remember: contracts are negotiable.