Britain rejects call to ban gagging orders in finance

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Finance Ministry on Tuesday rejected a call to ban non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which can be used to silence victims of sexual harassment and abuse, arguing that such clauses do not stop staff reporting concerns to authorities.

A report on sexism in London's financial sector by the cross-party Treasury Committee in March called for new legislation to bar "gagging orders" that shield serial perpetrators, cover-up discrimination, prompt women to resign and embed corrosive workplace cultures.

But the Finance Ministry noted that NDAs do not prevent individuals from blowing the whistle about wrongdoing to lawyers or regulators and were likely to be unenforceable if employees wanted to report a crime to the police.

"When it comes to sexual harassment and discrimination, it is important to recognise that individual circumstances vary," the Finance Ministry added in a response to the Treasury Committee report, published on Tuesday.

A 2019 government consultation on confidentiality clauses also heard evidence that "many employees" who sign a settlement agreement at the end of their employment value clauses that "allow them to move on and make a clear break", it added.

Britain last year banned the use of NDAs to silence complaints about sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment in higher education. But such misconduct is most prevalent in finance, insurer Aviva's CEO Amanda Blanc has said.

"Steps like banning NDAs in all harassment cases and removing biases which benefit men in salary negotiations are straightforward, logical measures which would have a huge impact on people' lives," said Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Committee.

The committee is also calling for stronger protections for whistleblowers of sexual harassment, a ban on prospective employers asking for salary history and a legal requirement to include salary bands on job adverts after finding a "shocking" prevalence of sexism and misogyny in finance.

Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, which lobbies against the misuse of NDAs, says more than 430,000 mothers have been gagged after workplace discrimination, harassment or bullying in Britain.

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Alison Williams)