The UK government must prevent employers from using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to cover up unlawful workplace behaviour, a report by the Women and Equalities Committee urges.

Committee chairwoman Maria Miller said NDAs’ contribution to “cover-up culture” is “deeply troubling”—with some employers withholding positive references or remedial action until staff sign NDAs.

The report recommends the Law Society revisit its guidance on NDAs—and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority punish solicitors who fail ethical standards when drafting NDAs for private companies.

Women and ethnic minorities are especially vulnerable to abusive or misleading “gag orders.” By convincing staff they cannot report mistreatment, these could “pervert the course of justice.”

One woman—forced from her job after having a child—told the BBC her employer threatened not to compensate her unless she signed an NDA within 24 hours. She believes “NDAs are a bullying tactic that forces you into silence.”

Notwithstanding, some witnesses think confidential agreements actually yield higher payouts than those awarded by tribunals.

Others felt NDAs made reaching settlement agreements easier—eliminating the stress and expense of a court case.

Do NDAs stifle employees’ disclosure of harassment, discrimination, and other professional misconduct?

Or are they a legitimate way to protect intellectual property in competitive industries?

 

Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.