New legislation planned on employee rights over NDAs

New legislation is announced to curb the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements to silence whistleblowers.

 

The Government has announced plans to introduce new legislation to prohibit Non-Disclosure Agreements from being used to silence those who have been sexually harassed or bullied at work.

The updated legislation will ensure employers make clear the limitations of a confidentiality clause, in plain English, within a settlement agreement and in a written statement for an employee, so individuals signing them fully understand what they are signing and their rights.

It will also extend current legislation so that individuals signing NDAs will get independent legal advice on the limitations of a confidentiality clause – including making clear that information can still be disclosed to police, regulated health and care professionals, or legal professionals regardless of an NDA

And it will introduce new enforcement measures to deal with confidentiality clauses that do not comply with legal requirements – for example, an NDA in a settlement agreement that does not follow new legislative requirements will be legally void.

There has been many report of Non-Disclosure Agreements being used by employers to prevent people who have been bullied or sexually harassed at work from speaking out about what has happened to them. Confidentiality clauses, or NDAs, cannot, however, be used to prevent an individual from reporting wrongdoing in the public interest or from taking a matter to an employment tribunal.

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “The vast majority of businesses comply with the law and use NDAs legitimately – from protecting commercially sensitive information to preventing information being shared with competitors.

“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.

“We will not tolerate the use of NDAs to silence and intimidate victims from speaking out.”

Chief Executive of the Equality & Human Rights Commission Rebecca Hilsenrath welcomed the new legislation, but added: “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 behaviour before it happens. We are developing new guidance on NDAs and tackling harassment which will provide further clarity for employers and help them create safe and supportive working environments.”



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