The Women & Equalities Committee (WEC) of the House of Commons has produced its report on The Use of Non-Disclosure Agreements in Discrimination Cases.
Some strong words from the WEC:
“We have been disappointed, but not surprised, to hear examples of large employers using the significant resources at their disposal to put considerable pressure on employees who pursue allegations of discrimination or harassment at tribunal—for example by making the process more protracted and difficult—instead of taking action to tackle and prevent future discrimination or harassment.”
And a lot of recommendations for change, too; here are some of the highlights:
– Employers to ensure that all discrimination complaints are investigated, regardless of whether settled;
– An obligation to provide a reference (to remove the threat of refusal which presently adds to the employer’s bargaining power);
– Extension of ET time limits (yes, please!) in sex/pregnancy discrimination cases;
– Review of access to legal aid and the incidence of costs;
– Increase in injury to feeling awards and availability of “punitive damages”;
– New clarity in agreements, use of plain English
– Improvement of corporate governance/management and recording of complaints.
And there’s more. It’s unusually aspirational for this sort of thing. But it is a set of recommendations only. It remains to be seen what is implemented.
There is some push back against the suggestions in certain quarters. Certainly we understand the concerns that are expressed, that new rules ought not to hamper an individual who wants to sign up and move on.
But without a real sea-change in the law, is there going to be any serious reform by employers? We remain surprised by the levels of harassment we see in even the largest, public-facing organisations. Perhaps a radical re-balancing of the status quo is the only way to get real change accomplished. It’s hard to see how a halfway house will help anyone.