The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has called for new legislation preventing employers from using non-disclosure agreements to “sweep sexual harassment under the carpet”.
It added that “corrosive working cultures have silenced the voices of victims” and “normalised sexual harassment”.
Non-disclosure agreements, sometimes known as confidentiality agreements, are commonly used by employers in workplace disputes to protect the reputation of their company.
It is a legal contract between two parties that each must sign and agree to and is commonly included in the terms of a settlement.
The EHRC said banning employers offering the agreement would strengthen the legal protection of employees. Instead, employees should only be allowed to request one.
The call forms part of the commission’s set of recommendations published today.
Among them, the commission also calls for the time limit to bring a claim of sexual harassment to tribunal to be extended to six months, which it says reflects the time taken by many individuals to raise complaints.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “We set out to discover how sexual harassment at work is dealt with by employers and how it is experienced by individuals. What we found was truly shocking. There is a lack of consistent, effective action being taken by employers, and people’s careers and mental and physical health have been damaged as a result.
“Corrosive cultures have silenced individuals and sexual harassment has been normalised. We underestimate extent and we are complacent as to impact. We need urgent action to turn the tables in British workplaces; shifting from the current culture of people risking their jobs and health in order to report harassment, to placing the onus on employers to prevent and resolve it. That’s what our recommendations set out to do.
“It cannot be right that millions of people go to work fearing what might have happened by the time they come home. Employers need to stand up and take responsibility for eliminating sexual harassment from every British workplace.”
The specialist employment team at mfg solicitors regularly helps employers defend claims of sexual harassment and advises them on how to avoid future workplace disputes. For more information about how we could help you, please contact us.