Almost half a million women gagged after workplace discrimination, bullying or harassment

Almost half a million women gagged after workplace discrimination, bullying or harassment

Almost half a million women are gagged by confidentiality agreements after experiencing discrimination, bullying or harassment at work, according to new research.

A study, by the campaign group, Pregnant then Screwed, estimates 435,293 mothers have been silenced by non-disclosure agreements (NDA) or confidentiality clauses in the UK following mistreatment at work.

NDAs are legal contracts that block individuals from sharing information which companies or people want kept private. Employers across the UK use NDAs to silence workers who allege sexual harassment, pay discrimination and other wrongdoing.

Researchers found that three-quarters of mothers who signed an NDA say doing so harmed their mental health, while only around a quarter of mothers who signed a confidentiality clause would sign it again if given the choice and three in 10 think they were fairly compensated after their mistreatment.

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It comes as campaigners gather at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday to protest against the confidentiality agreements.

A mother who signed an NDA said: “I was asked to sign an NDA to cover maternity discrimination and a second time to cover harassment.

“The process of negotiating the NDA made me feel suicidal. The NDA was presented to me at the end of a gruelling process that had to end otherwise I would have had to sell my home. The lasting impact of the NDA was ruinous.”

Lauren Fabianski, of Pregnant Then Screwed, warned NDAs have “become a toxic tool that allows unscrupulous employers to quite literally pay victims to keep their mouths shut about horrific injustices”.

She added: “They mask discrimination, harassment and criminal abuse from the public and even the employees’ friends and family. This immoral practice undermines laws meant to protect workers and creates a culture of secrecy where perpetrators face no consequences.”

Zelda Perkins, co-founder of Can’t Buy My Silence, said wielding NDAs to silence women about mistreatment in the workplace is “not only unethical but a further abuse that lasts indefinitely as NDAs are forever”.

She added: “These agreements not only silence women when they are in a vulnerable position but can hide the settlement amount offered, which enables employers to pay them less than they are entitled to by law. This is not only immoral but in many cases illegal.”

Pregnant Then Screwed and Can’t Buy My Silence have launched a new petition calling for the government to roll out legislation which means NDAs cannot be used in cases linked to discrimination, harassment and abuse.

One mother said: “Signing an NDA with a large UK employer was the most isolating and difficult experience I’ve ever been through. It affects me to this day.

“At the time of signing, I was so distraught and so desperate to find a way out of a difficult situation that I’d no real understanding of how much the agreement itself would affect my confidence long term or how it would sever my contact with a community of colleagues I’d known for years.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are clear that the use of NDAs to intimidate victims of harassment and discrimination into silence cannot be tolerated.

“We are already taking action in the higher education sector and to make sure victims of crime are not prevented from seeking support. We have published extensive guidance and consulted on the use of NDAs in the workplace; and we are carefully considering how to further tackle wrongful practices.”