U.K. Proposes New Measures to Protect Workers From NDA Misuse

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government proposed new measures to stop companies from using non-disclosure agreements to prevent workers from reporting harassment or discrimination to the police.

The plan would also ensure that workers get independent advice on the limits of confidentiality agreements, according to a statement from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy on Monday. There has been evidence in recent months that NDAs and confidentiality clauses are being used to “intimidate” whistle-blowers and conceal harassment and discrimination, according to the department.

The misuse of such agreements “is becoming more widespread,” said Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst. “Our new proposals will help to tackle this problem by making it clear in law that victims cannot be prevented from speaking to the police or reporting a crime and clarifying their rights.”

The measures come at a time when British billionaire businessman Philip Green faces allegations of trying to silence former employees who accused him of sexual and racial harassment. In October, the Court of Appeal blocked the Telegraph newspaper from publishing a story about the “discreditable conduct” of a leading businessman because some of the accusers had signed settlements with clauses that prevented them from talking about the claims. Green, who has denied all claims made against him, was subsequently identified under parliamentary privilege.

The new rules are also intended to prevent staff from being cheated into signing a gagging order of which they are unaware, according to the department’s statement. It is “completely unacceptable” to misuse NDAs to “silence victims,” the Sunday Telegraph cited Tolhurst as saying.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.