A senior Conservative MP has proposed a law that would prevent “slanderous” employers from using gag orders to silence victims of sexual harassment.
Maria Miller, who chairs the Select Committee on Women and Equality, said employers were allowed to “cover up illegal wrongdoing” through the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
Such contracts are meant to prevent former employees from disclosing confidential or sensitive information, but Miller warned they were also used to “silence the disclosure of wrongdoing in the workplace.”
The NDAs’ drove the bad culture in the UK workplace – a culture where mismanagement can be covered up and where the silence of employees who have suffered significant wrongdoing can indeed be bought, motivating even a small number of employees to vexatiously seek payments from employers. by making false claims, ”she said.
“We just have to break this destructive cycle. “
Pressure to crack down on the use of NDAs has intensified since 2018, when retail billionaire Sir Philip Green was named to parliament as the subject of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation.
Appeals court judges granted temporary injunction preventing Daily Telegraph from publishing misconduct allegations made by five employees about a character the newspaper described as a “prominent businessman” . Staff had signed non-disclosure agreements.
The gagging orders were also at the heart of serious allegations of sexual abuse in 2017 against former film producer Harvey Weinstein, which sparked the #MeToo movement.
Zelda Perkins, a former assistant to the producer, broke a confidentiality agreement to expose how he used gag contracts to silence victims of harassment.
Miller, who was Minister for Women and Equalities under former Prime Minister David Cameron, said the global #MeToo movement has helped highlight the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.
But she warned that while the government was aware of the problem, it had not done enough to resolve it. She highlighted efforts to legislate against NDAs in Ireland, Canada and California.
“We cannot be left behind,” she said. “We need to legislate for change. We can no longer pretend that there is no abuse of the law. It is happening, and the government has proof of it.
“Parliament must legislate now if we are to ensure that everyone is equally protected at work under the law. “