NUJ signs letter calling for robust reform of the use of non-disclosure agreements
28 March 2018
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, is one of the signatories, including lawyers, human rights activists and authors, to a letter published in today’s Financial Times denouncing the misuse of non-disclosure agreements which have been used to silence complainants of sexual harassment and abuse.
The Women and Equalities Select Committee has launched a full inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, including ‘the pros and cons of using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases’. The letter calls for “a pressing need for robust reform”.
The NUJ’s submission to the select committee’s inquiry outlined how NDAs had been used by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to prevent accusers speaking out about his alleged serial sexual harassment. Likewise, Fox News resorted to NDAs when it paid off numerous women who had been reportedly sexually harassed by the broadcaster’s founder, Roger Ailes, and former TV host, Bill O’Reilly.
The letter on page 10 of today’s FT is also signed by Baroness Helena Kennedy, Bianca Jagger, president and chief executive of the Human Rights Foundation and authors Joanna Trollope, Joanne Harris and Kathy Lette. It says:
“NDAs can serve a purpose in preventing disclosure of sensitive financial information during business transactions. But all too frequently NDAs are abused, and cash is used to silence criminality and wrongdoing. This abuse cannot be swept under the carpet as an historic problem, as is plain from the use of NDAs for hostesses at the recent Presidents Club ball.
“The government cannot stand idly by and allow the powerful, rich, and legally equipped to silence their complainants in exchange for money where the behaviour alleged is illegal. To do so undermines the role of law enforcement and the proper use of public interest disclosures. It allows well-resourced crooks and brigands to offend without fear of discovery, let alone sanction; promotes unsafe and discriminatory work environments; distorts offending statistics; masks social evils; strips victims of justice and, in particular cases, contributes to rape culture.” Full letter
Former Weinstein assistant Zelda Perkins gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee and described how she was put under pressure to sign an NDA that was "morally lacking on every level". Select committee session.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called on the government to introduce legislation stopping employers from ignoring complaints to protect their reputation. It said they should not be used by companies to sweep sexual harassment under the carpet. The commission said there should be a new legal duty on employers to prevent harassment or victimisation, as well as more protection for victims.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC, said:
“Corrosive cultures have silenced individuals and sexual harassment has been normalised. We underestimate extent and we are complacent as to impact. We need urgent action to turn the tables in British workplaces, shifting from the current culture of people risking their jobs and health in order to report harassment, to placing the onus on employers to prevent and resolve it."