Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs) that allow employers to keep sexual harassment scandals under wraps and prevent workers from going to the police will no longer be allowed under proposals put together by UK lawmakers.
The move follows several high-profile cases. Almost exactly a year ago Harvey Weinstein’s former PA Zelda Perkins (pictured) gave explosive evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry about the NDA she was obliged to sign. And in February 2019 it emerged that Arcadia Group Chairman Sir Philip Green, allegedly used gagging clauses to keep several former employees from speaking out about bullying and sexual assault, or risk losing financial settlements.
“Many businesses use non-disclosure agreements and other confidentiality agreements for legitimate business reasons,” said Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP. “What is completely unacceptable is the misuse of these agreements to silence victims, and there is evidence that this is becoming more widespread. Our proposals will help to tackle this problem by making it clear in law that victims cannot be prevented from speaking to the police.”
Concerns about the use of NDAs has been heightened in the wake of #metoo, among increasing awareness of how powerful men have escaped accountability for sexual assault and harassment. In 2018, the Solicitors Regulation Authority issued a warning to lawyers in England and Wales that NDAs should not be used to stop anyone going to the police or relevant regulators.
There is evidence that other whistleblowers are also finding their speech restricted in the same way. This year, one of Blueprint for Free Speech gave a Special Recognition Award to an Anonymous Barclays Whistleblower, who was not able to come forward publicly.
The UK Government’s proposals could mean alleged victims could not be prevented under NDA’s from reporting crimes, harassment or discrimination to the police or be silenced under pressure from powerful figures or corporations. They law would also require workers agreeing to settlements and signing NDAs to receive independent advice so they are not duped into signing invalid and unenforceable gagging clauses.
Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We have seen brave individuals breaking silence on such behaviour, but too many are still facing the unethical misuse of non-disclosure agreements by their employers.”