NDAs “convenient vehicle for covering up unlawful activity” says Parliamentary Committee
The Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has condemned the “routine cover-up” of allegations of discrimination and harassment by UK employers. In its report on the use of non-disclosure agreements the WEC has called on the government to overhaul the rules around non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) so that they cannot be used to suppress allegations or prevent legitimate discussion around harassment. The “cover-up culture” must end, it says.
The report is the result of a seven-month inquiry into the use of NDAs in cases of sexual harassment, and is running alongside a longstanding investigation into sexual harassment in the workplace. Its findings include evidence that many individuals found it difficult to work in the same sector after signing an NDA and some reported living with “emotional and psychological damage” as a result of their experience.
To deal with this the WEC calls for stronger corporate governance requirements to ensure employers meet their responsibilities, and that they are made to appoint a named senior manager to oversee anti-discrimination and harassment policies and procedures and any use of NDAs in such cases.
It also calls for government to address the alleged failure of the employment tribunal system to provide a meaningful route of redress for those who have experienced discrimination or harassment at work, highlighting the difficulties employees face when pursuing a case. It said the “substantial imbalance of power” between employers and employees can result in individuals feeling they must reach a settlement. It also renewed calls for the three-month time limit (from the date of the alleged offence) to take sexual harassment and discrimination claims to tribunal to be doubled, and said that new laws should be introduced so that NDAs cannot prevent people from sharing information that may support the claims of other victims.
The government had responded by pointing out that it had recently consulted on proposals to tighten the laws around NDAs and confidentiality clauses to put an end to the unethical use of such agreements. It said the response to the consultation “will be published in due course.”