New legislation could outlaw non-disclosure agreements | Law

New proposals to prevent employers using “gagging clauses” to conceal sexual harassment, intimidation and racism complaints are to be unveiled by the government this week.

The plans, to be included in a consultation, could lead to new legislation that would prevent non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) being used to prevent victims reporting serious complaints to the police.

Ministers have decided to act following high-profile cases including that of Sir Philip Green, chairman of Arcadia Group, who is alleged to have used NDAs to prevent several former employees from speaking out about their experiences of bullying and sexual assault.

Announcing the move, business minister Kelly Tolhurst said the proposals were part of wider plans to increase fairness in the workplace. “Many businesses use non-disclosure agreements and other confidentiality agreements for legitimate business reasons,” she said. “What is completely unacceptable is the misuse of these agreements to silence victims, and there is evidence that this is becoming more widespread. Our proposals will help to tackle this problem by making it clear in law that victims cannot be prevented from speaking to the police.

“Our proposals to change the law around NDAs and confidentiality clauses are just one step of many that we are taking to kickstart cultural change in the workplace. This includes encouraging more women at the top of business and requiring employers to publish gender pay data.”

Many organisations, including government departments, use NDAs legitimately to protect confidential information. However ministers say they are being abused by a “very small minority” of employers to intimidate whistleblowers and conceal harassment and discrimination, including sexual assault, physical threats and racism.

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