A new report has criticised the ‘routine’ use of non-disclosure agreements as a way to silence women who have faced discrimination in the workplace.
The Women and Equalities Committee has condemned the “routine cover-up” of allegations of unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace and the fact that some employers fail to investigate allegations of unlawful discrimination properly – or at all.
In its report on the use of non-disclosure agreements, it calls for Government action to reset the parameters around their use and to address failures in the employment tribunal system to ensure employees who have experienced discrimination can get proper redress.
The report highlights the difficulties of pursuing a case at employment tribunal and says the substantial imbalance of power that can exist between employers and employees “can drive employees to feel that they have little choice but to reach a settlement that prohibits them from speaking out”.
The Committee proposes that the Government should:
Maria Miller, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “We heard during our previous inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace that the current use of non-disclosure agreements in settling such allegations is at best murky and at worst a convenient vehicle for covering up unlawful activity with legally sanctioned secrecy.
“It is particularly worrying that secrecy about allegations of unlawful discrimination is being traded for things that employers should be providing as a matter of course, such as references and remedial action to tackle discrimination.
“After signing an NDA, many individuals find it difficult to work in the same sector again. Some suffer emotional and psychological damage as a result of their experiences, which can affect their ability to work and move on. There is also the financial penalty of losing a job and bringing a case against an employer.”
She continued: “Organisations have a duty of care to provide a safe place of work for their staff and that includes protection from unlawful discrimination.
“Some organisations now routinely settle employment disputes without the use of NDAs. We have put forward a range of measures to ensure more follow suit.”
The Committee renews its previous calls for the Government to place a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace; and take action to reduce disincentives to taking a case forward at employment tribunal.