21 JULY 2019

The Government has announced new legislation will tackle the misuse of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), also known as confidentiality clauses, in the workplace – including those being used to cover up sexual harassment, racial discrimination and assault.

NDAs can be used by businesses for a number of legitimate reasons but in a minority of cases they are being abused and those that sign them not made aware of their rights. 

Gemma Rosenblatt, Head of Policy and Campaigns at The Fawcett Society, said:

“Fawcett has been calling for a strengthening of the law so that women are better protected from harassment in the workplace. We welcome changes that make it harder for employers to silence those women who wish to speak about their experiences.

“While non-disclosure agreements can give women some leverage in a system where employers hold all the cards, Fawcett supports changes that enable those signing them to better understand their rights, as well as to seek the advice of lawyers and other professionals.”

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst announced plans for new legislation which will, for the first time, prohibit NDAs being used to prevent individuals from disclosing information to the police, regulated health and care professionals, or legal professionals, such as a doctor, lawyer, or social worker.

The updated legislation will also:

  • Ensure employers make clear the limitations of a confidentiality clause, in plain English, within a settlement agreement and in a written statement for an employee, so individuals signing them fully understand what they are signing and their rights
  • Extend current legislation so that individuals signing NDAs will get independent legal advice on the limitations of a confidentiality clause – including making clear that information can still be disclosed to police, regulated health and care professionals, or legal professionals regardless of an NDA
  • Introduce new enforcement measures to deal with confidentiality clauses that do not comply with legal requirements - for example, an NDA in a settlement agreement that does not follow new legislative requirements will be legally void.

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said:

“The vast majority of businesses comply with the law and use NDAs legitimately – from protecting commercially sensitive information to preventing information being shared with competitors.

“As we have seen in the news recently, there are a handful of employers using NDAs to cover-up criminal acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment, assault and racist discrimination.

“We will not tolerate the use of NDAs to silence and intimidate victims from speaking out. The new legislation will stamp out misuse, tackle unacceptable workplace cultures, protect individuals and create a level playing field for businesses that comply with the law.”

The Fawcett Society has long campaigned for stronger legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace. We are calling for evidence from the public to feed into our campaign.

Complete the call for evidence here now.