July 22, 2019 / 11:29 AM / a month ago

Britain to ban 'gagging' clauses used to silence harassment victims

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain will ban employees from using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prevent victims of workplace harassment from speaking to police, lawyers and healthcare workers about their abuse.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), also known as workplace “gagging clauses”, are often used in commercial transactions to protect company information and trade secrets.

But the deals were thrust into the spotlight by the sexual assault scandal that engulfed Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017. He used NDAs as part of settlements with alleged victims.

The proposed new laws, announced by Britain’s government on Sunday, will ban NDAs that stop people disclosing information to the police, doctors or lawyers.

Employees who sign NDAs are to be given independent legal advice under the legislation.

“As we have seen in the news recently, there are a handful of employers using NDAs to cover up criminal acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment, assault and racist discrimination,” said Kelly Tolhurst, Britain’s minister for small business.

“The new legislation will stamp out misuse, tackle unacceptable workplace cultures (and) protect individuals,” she said in a statement on Sunday.

Confidentiality agreements have come under increased scrutiny in Britain amid the global ‘Me Too’ movement against sexual harassment and assault.

A British parliamentary committee launched an enquiry in November to examine whether NDAs should be banned or restricted, how easily victims can access legal aid, and if companies should be forced to report on types and numbers of NDAs used.

“The use of NDAs is only part of the problem of workplace harassment and discrimination, and employers must step up to protect their employees from this appalling behavior before it happens,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, head of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In Britain, 40 percent of women and 18 percent of men experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, from catcalls to sexual assault, polling firm ComRes found in 2017.

United Nations agency The International Labour Organization in June adopted a new treaty against violence and harassment in the workplace.

Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Tom Finn . Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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