NUJ welcomes report calling for an end to “gagging clauses” used to cover up harassment at work
11 June 2019
The National Union of Journalists has welcomed as highly significant the report of the UK Women and Equalities Committee which called for an end to the culture of secrecy surrounding discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
The NUJ has long opposed the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or “gagging clauses” as a means of silencing victims of harassment at work. The cross-party MPs’ committee had heard from women forced to sign NDAs while being paid off to silence them following sexual harassment at work. The committee noted the detrimental effect of NDAs, saying:
“The most shocking evidence given to our inquiry has been the detrimental effect an NDA can have on the lives of ordinary people. We received evidence from those who, after signing an NDA found it difficult to work in the same sector again. Some suffered emotional and psychological damage because of their experiences, which can affect their ability to work again or to move on. Some also suffer financially because of losing their job and bringing a case against their employer.”
The report said the government should:
- Stop the use of NDAs used to cover up allegations of unlawful discrimination, while still protecting the rights of victims to be able to make the choice to move on with their lives.
- Ensure that any use of confidentiality clauses need to be clear and specific in scope and that employers should be made to investigate all allegations properly.
- Strengthen corporate governance requirements to require employers to meet their responsibilities to protect those they employ from discrimination and harassment.
The committee said it renewed previous calls for the government to:
- Place a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimisation in the workplace.
- Allow tribunals to award punitive damages, and that awards for the non-financial impact of discrimination should be increased significantly.
Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, who gave evidence before the committee said many of the concerns raised by the NUJ were taken on board by members. He said:
“This is a highly significant report which merits full consideration. The use of NDAs as a weapon to silence those who take complaints has long been a major concern. There is an irony that media organisations who preach about openness and transparency are frequently offenders in the use of gagging clauses when it comes to dealing with complaints of harassment and discrimination.
“The committee rightly calls for a cultural shift in how complainants, in particular women, are treated. All too often they are perceived as a ‘problem’ with severe implications for their careers. NDAs are put forward as a form of protection for victims when they chiefly exist to protect employers.
“There is something fundamentally wrong when those who suffer inappropriate treatment are made feel they need the protection of anonymity to secure a decent outcome. The extreme pressure to accept confidential settlements is highly stressful on workers. Employers buy silence through NDAs.
“Cultural changes are extremely difficult to achieve on a voluntary basis and strong, legislative measures are needed to tackle discrimination and harassment against women in the workplace. The current tribunal system does not serve complainants properly and we welcome the recognition by the committee that reform in this area is crucial.”
The committee also called on the government to “begin an awareness-raising programme for employers and employees about how to handle grievances fairly and effectively, including signposting to relevant guidance and support. This should include guidance on the handling of investigations into allegations of unlawful discrimination and harassment following a settlement agreement if this is agreed before any investigation is completed. It should do this within the next six months”.
NDAs: government must end cover-up culture over discrimination and harassment cases, UK Women and Equalities Committee report.