Over 430K Working Mums Legally Gagged to Cover Harassment at Work

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Photo Credits - Elisa Ventur Via Unsplash

On 14 May 2024, Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) and Can’t Buy My Silence (CBMS) orchestrated a demonstration outside London’s Royal Courts of Justice. Their unified voice challenged the unjust application of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), which have legally gagged working mums following workplace misconduct. This campaign was fuelled by PTS’s findings, where their study revealed that over 430,000 mothers had been silenced after bullying, discrimination or harassment at work.

In this article, we delve deeper into PTS’s revelations and the urgent actions they advocate for. We scrutinise the concept of a ‘gag order’ and confront the Government’s rejection of the Treasury Committee’s recommendations to outlaw NDAs in sexual harassment cases. Lastly, we offer invaluable insights into measures employers can adopt to prevent and effectively address sexual harassment in the workplace. Keep reading to gain a comprehensive understanding of this pressing issue.

Exposing the Silence – 430k Working Mums Legally Gagged

“NDAs have become a toxic tool that allows unscrupulous employers to quite literally pay victims to keep their mouths shut”. This statement comes from Lauren Fabianski, the Head of Campaigns & Communications for Pregnant Then Screwed. It was influenced by PTS’s revelations, highlighting the staggering number of working mums who’ve been legally gagged through confidentiality agreements.

Among their shocking findings, they learned that over 75% of mothers who signed one experienced a mental health decline. One such individual stated that “the process of negotiating the NDA made me feel suicidal”, highlighting one of the motivations for last week’s protest.

READ: Ex-BBC Commentator Claims Unfair Dismissal Following Whistleblowing Incident

But that’s not all, as less than a third felt their employer compensated them fairly despite their silence. Arguably the most striking statistic, though, is that only 25% of those who previously signed NDAs would do so again.

Therefore, PTS and CBMS have called for a ban on NDAs in cases of discrimination, bullying or harassment at work. They believe that preventing working mums from being legally gagged would “protect the integrity of employment law”.

What are ‘Gag Orders’ and Why Won’t the Gov Ban Them?

Typically, when someone refers to ‘gag orders’ or individuals being ‘legally gagged’, they are referring to confidentiality agreements. An example includes NDAs, which can help prevent information like business secrets from becoming public knowledge. This is because, once signed, both parties mustn’t disclose the agreement’s contents.

430k Working Mums Legally Gagged By NDAs - ‘Gag orders’, also known as non-disclosure agreements, have reportedly been used to silence over 430k working mums in cases of serious workplace misconduct. Typically, these orders prevent business secrets from being publicly disclosed. However, it’s alleged they have been misused to prevent victims from being able to disclose the misconduct at work.

However, such confidentiality agreements have become controversial as several have exposed their exploitative use. The Treasury Committee recently conducted their ‘Sexism in the City’ inquiry, coming to conclusions similar to those of PTS. Consequently, they also advocated for a ban on NDAs in cases of sexual harassment at work.

Surprisingly, though, the Government rejected the Treasury Committee’s proposals. The Government reasoned that confidentiality agreements still hold value in protecting things like legitimate business interests (by protecting trade secrets). As such, they explained they would instead review when NDAs can be used and legislate to make them unenforceable when used to hide criminal activity.

Top Employer Strategies to Tackle Workplace Sexual Harassment

To overcome the controversy of working mums being legally gagged, employers must proactively address sexual harassment in the workplace. Companies can implement several strategies to achieve this, such as:

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  • Creating a comprehensive workplace sexual harassment policy. This approach will clarify the employer’s stance and ensure employees understand how to respond if they experience such behaviour.
  • Providing numerous training opportunities. Training serves a dual purpose. First, it defines what constitutes sexual harassment and unacceptable workplace behaviour. Second, it equips managers and senior staff with the skills to handle instances of sexual harassment effectively when they arise.
  • Encouraging victims to come forward. While policy implementation informs employees about reporting unacceptable behaviour, employer encouragement empowers them to take action. Discussing such matters can be challenging, and a supportive employer can make all the difference in stamping out misconduct.
  • Inspiring colleagues to shoulder some of the responsibility. It’s difficult for employers to see and hear everything. Yet, if employees become the company’s eyes and ears, they can help report incidents and become role models. 
  • Promptly investigating allegations. If an employer becomes aware of sexual harassment at work and fails to act swiftly, they could face compensation claims. However, the consequences extend further; if employees perceive their employer’s actions as inadequate, they may lose trust in the process and refrain from reporting future instances. This worsens the company’s culture and hampers the employer’s efforts to eradicate workplace misconduct effectively.

Legally Gagged – Need Help?

Regardless of the measures taken, employers must take the issue of working mums being legally gagged seriously. If you’ve experienced bullying, discrimination, or harassment at work and feel your employer hasn’t met their legal obligations, reach out to Redmans Solicitors for expert guidance. As specialists in employment law, they can advise you on your next steps following a brief consultation.

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