OLYMPIA – Washington workers will gain protection against employers who seek to force them to attend meetings where they are required to listen to the employer’s opinions on religious or political matters, under the Employee Free Choice Act, signed into law Thursday.

SB 5778 makes Washington the sixth state in the nation to prohibit employers from disciplining or firing employees who refuse to attend such meetings. It simply allows an employee to keep working at their job rather than attend a “mandatory” meeting on political or religious matters.

“Workers are hired to do a job. Going to work should not obligate a worker to listen to their employer’s views on religious and political matters,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), chair of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee and prime sponsor of the bill.

Employers should not be able to force workers to attend political rallies promoting national political candidates, Keiser said, or to listen to anti-trans speakers, citing examples of inappropriate meetings. Under the bill, employers will also not be able to require workers to attend meetings where they are told that that attempts to unionize will lead to layoffs or loss of benefits.

Oregon, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maine and New York have passed similar laws.

The legislation does not prevent employers from requiring attendance at job training or training to reduce and prevent workplace harassment or discrimination.

“Nothing in this bill prevents an employer from saying what they want to say, it just doesn’t require an employee to listen,” said Keiser. “The bill simply protects the rights of workers by making religious or political meetings voluntary.”

“This is my last bill to become law, so I am very pleased Gov. Inslee is signing it today here in my district,” Keiser added.

Keiser announced her retirement this year after serving 29 years in the Legislature.

SB 5778 goes into effect June 6.