November 13, 2018 / 12:33 AM / a month ago

Britain to scrutinize confidentiality deals that silence harassment victims

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British lawmakers will examine rules that allow employers to silence victims of workplace sexual harassment and racist or pregnancy discrimination, as the use of confidentiality agreements come under greater scrutiny around the world.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are ubiquitous in commercial transactions such as mergers and acquisitions and are commonly used to protect company’s confidential information and trade secrets.

Such deals were thrust into the spotlight by the sexual assault scandal that has engulfed movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who used NDAs as part of settlements with alleged victims.

If an individual breaches an NDA they could face a lawsuit.

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

“Use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases is only part of the picture. This new inquiry will focus on their wider use in other cases involving other forms of harassment or discrimination,” Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

In Britain, 40 percent of women and 18 percent of men were sexually harassed in the workplace, from catcalls to sexual assault, polling firm ComRes found last year.

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

In March, Britain’s Solicitors Regulation Authority, which regulates law firms, issued a warning notice about the improper use of NDAs and that such agreements should not be used to prevent people from reporting misconduct.

That was followed by a July report on workplace sexual harassment by the Women and Equalities Committee, which urged the government to “clean up” the use of NDAs amid concern the agreements are being used to silence victims.

Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories

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