Change urged to prevent “gag clauses” from silencing victims of harassment
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The UK government is urged to change the law to tackle the use of ‘gag clauses’ to silence victims of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace.
Maria Miller, a Conservative MP, will introduce a 10-minute bill on Tuesday that would prevent the use of nondisclosure agreements from being used to cover up illegal activity.
“When used unethically, NDAs are catastrophically damaging to innocent and immoral parties as they are used as safety nets by employers to routinely cover up harmless abuse,” she said. declared.
“The evidence also shows that it has a tremendous personal impact on victims, leaving them emotionally and psychologically exhausted, disillusioned and left with a complete loss of confidence in the legal system. ”
NDAs have long been used by companies and powerful individuals to protect corporate secrets or sensitive information. But increasingly, they have been used as a means of preventing victims and witnesses from speaking out about workplace abuse.
Successive consultations since 2017, including one government report, concluded that action should be taken to protect employees from toxic gag clauses. But so far, ministers have failed to enact new laws or update sanctions against lawyers who draft unethical agreements.
The government said: “We have held an extensive consultation on the misuse of confidentiality clauses between workers and their employers and we are committed to implementing legislation to crack down on these practices when parliamentary time permits.”
Miller will bring his all-party-supported private member’s bill to parliament for first reading. The second reading is not scheduled until March 18 of next year.
In the United States, such restrictions are routinely paired with no-denigration clauses that prevent workers from saying anything negative about their employers after they leave their jobs, creating a chilling effect on freedom to work. expression of employees.
The abuse of gag clauses – sometimes referred to as ‘silence agreements’ – was brought to public attention by the #MeToo movement when a series of powerful and wealthy people were revealed to have attempted to silence victims of alleged sexual harassment.
The former assistant to disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, Zelda Perkins, broke her NDA in the Financial Times in 2017 to detail allegations that he assaulted a colleague and harassed her, sparking a spate of revelations against individuals, including billionaire retailer Philip Green the following year.
Miller has been joined by other MPs, as well as lawmakers and activists in the United States and Ireland who have pushed to change national laws to prevent the use of gag clauses to cover up discrimination.
New laws have already been passed in recent years in California and New Jersey to protect victims of sexual harassment, while a bill is under consideration in Canada, Australia and Ireland.
“It has been over 20 years since I was forced to sign an unethical NDA with Miramax to silence me about the sexual assault of a colleague by Harvey Weinstein,” Perkins said.
“It has now been over four years since I broke this NDA to expose the legal problem to lawmakers, but nothing has changed and [they] continue to be misused.
“This is why we launched [a new] campaign because until. . . toxic NDAs are abolished, victims of sexual harassment, intimidation and other wrongdoing will continue to be silenced, ”she added.