Britain must stop the widespread abuse of so-called gagging orders to silence victims of discrimination and harassment, parliamentarians said on Tuesday.
There is concern that bosses are increasingly using non disclosure agreements (NDAs), or confidentiality agreements, to muzzle employees and whistleblowers when reaching settlements in cases including sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.
Parliamentarians said they were particularly concerned that some were using NDAs to avoid investigating unlawful behaviour and holding those accused to account.
“It is completely unacceptable that allegations of unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace are routinely covered up by employers with legally drafted NDAs,” they said in a report on Tuesday following an inquiry launched last year.
They said the problem was compounded by the difficulty and financial risks of pursuing a case at an employment tribunal, which left potential claimants feeling they had no choice but to reach a settlement even if it prevented them speaking out.
Maria Miller, who heads parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, said the use of NDAs in discrimination and harassment cases was “at best murky and at worst a convenient vehicle for covering up unlawful activity with legally sanctioned secrecy”.
The debate around their use in Britain was reignited last year amid reports that retail billionaire Philip Green had used NDAs following allegations of sexual harassment and racist abuse of staff.
Green, the entrepreneur whose Arcadia group owns the TopShop fashion chain, has denied the allegations.
Employers in Britain have also used NDAs in pregnancy and maternity-related disputes.
Parliamentarians said they were shocked to learn of the devastating impact such agreements could have on individuals, with many finding their careers damaged or curtailed. Read more