Sunday, 29 July 2018

Vow of silence

I'm still subject to an indefinite gagging order I signed when I left a well-known charity ten years ago. I had to sign it as part of a voluntary redundancy package and it stays in force until the day I drop dead. It forbids me from saying anything about how the charity was run and any disturbing incidents I witnessed while I was there.

Not only that but it forbids me from even revealing that I signed a gagging order or what the order specifies, which means that right now I'm breaking the law. But given I'm not revealing anything too damaging, and not naming the charity, I doubt if a solicitor's letter will drop through my front door any time soon.

The order also forbids me from making disparaging comments about the charity or taking any legal action, such as claiming unfair dismissal, claiming the national minimum wage or claiming age discrimination.

I gather gagging orders are getting more and more common, especially when someone is leaving a workplace, possibly under a cloud and probably knowing of all sorts of negative things that could wreck the organisation's reputation. Even sexual harassment can be hushed up by such orders.

In June it was revealed that the House of Commons spent £2.4 million on 53 redundancy-related non-disclosure orders in five years.

Well, just to carry on breaking the law, I can disclose that my own gagging order followed a severe personality clash between several workmates, and a new manager's desire to clear out those of us he regarded as "dead wood" in order to hire people more to his liking.

Hardly explosive revelations, especially as similar things must go on in every charity in the land. So a voluminous five-page gagging order is absurdly over the top.

But it's a nice little earner for the lawyers.

22 comments:

Secret Agent Woman said...

Those are called gag orders here. Which sound a little less like vomiting, somehow.

Anyway, I think in cases of sexual harassment or assault, gag order ought not be binding. And I'm curious about how you could be forced to sign one when you left a company - was there an "or else" consequence to not signing?

nick said...

Agent: There's been some lobbying for sexual assault to be exempt, but I don't think it's got anywhere as yet.

Yes, we were told if we didn't sign, there would be no enhanced redundancy payment, and our union advised us we had no alternative.

Joared said...

The lawyers do have to come up,with ways in which they can make a living, so the more there’s a law against, the better.

nick said...

Joared: Or on the other hand laws requiring things - health and safety regulations, conveyancing requirements, employment conditions etc. An endless supply of work!

helen devries said...

Gutless union rep...a charity who puts on gagging orders would not be well regarded by the public, so time to put on the pressure.

nick said...

Helen: I imagine all the big-name charities use gagging orders, but of course we don't know about them because they're secret. Yes, the union rep wasn't much help, he just did the charity's bidding.

Z said...

It was fifteen or sixteen years ago that I signed a confidentiality agreement as part of a "compromise agreement" to avoid a constructive dismissal case from an employee of the local authority. I have to be vague about it, obviously as I'm still bound by it too. Though it went against the grain as the person concerned received a lot of money, tax free, I was so relieved to be rid of them that I took the pragmatic approach and didn't argue.

nick said...

Z: I think I would also have agreed, if it meant someone who was making trouble is off my back. But surely there should be a time limit to these agreements?

Z said...

Since the facts weren't put to the test at a tribunal, it's all a matter of perception and they're entitled not to be criticised professionally, I suppose. I learned a lot from the experience, though.

nick said...

Z: That's true. Of course nowadays a lot of people would be deterred from going to a tribunal by the huge fee that was introduced in 2013 - up to £1,200. Not many people have that sort of money to hand.

tammy j said...

wow.
of course one thing you said I believe is done frequently here...
charity or not... but as a money saving issue.
" a new manager's desire to clear out those of us he regarded as "dead wood" in order to hire people more to his liking." OR more to the liking of the corporation or whatever... in NOT having to pay said employees.
many are fired right before they would retire. thus the 'company' saves a lot of money.
just another area not to trust these days. sad.

nick said...

Tammy: Yes, cutting the wage bill is a big factor. Employees aren't necessarily redundant in any genuine sense, they're just too expensive or too bolshy.

I didn't know people in the States were often fired before they qualified for a pension. That's pretty bad.

Danielle L Zecher said...

It's very common here in the States for people to be fired or laid off just before they'd be able for retirement or a pension. The two main reasons seem to be hiring someone younger/cheaper, and the fact that healthcare costs are typically lower for younger workers. You hear horror stories here of people weeks away from full retirement being laid off. My dad was partially forced out, and his replacement was younger than me.

It's upsetting to think of a charity spending their money on things like those orders, and enforcing them rather than just dealing with problem managers. Makes you wonder what their donors would have to say about that, which is probably the whole point behind the orders.

nick said...

Danielle: I'm amazed that workers in the States can be sacked literally weeks from retirement and lose their pension. That simply wouldn't happen in the UK. If someone is sacked before pensionable age (or leaves because of ill-health etc), they take their pension entitlement with them (less the extra they would have got if they'd worked right through). Lots of people retire in their fifties (police, firefighters etc) and still get a full occupational pension.

The gagging order wasn't a way of dealing with problem staff, it was a condition of our getting enhanced redundancy payments. But as you say, what would donors have to say about gagging orders if they knew about them?

Rummuser said...

As long as at the individual level, the golden parachute is attractive enough, I don't see any problem in signing such an agreement. If the parachute was not attractive, one should obviously not have signed the agreement. Mutually agreed divorce as it were!

nick said...

Ramana: I didn't have any serious objection to the gagging order. It meant I would get a very generous redundancy payment, and I had no interest in taking legal action or rubbishing the charity, I just wanted to move on with my life.

kylie said...

I signed a gag order with regard to a discrimination claim 20-ish years ago but I would happily break it now if I thought it would achieve anything. I was blatantly discriminated against due to being a mother and the company paid me a pittance in "compensation". It's no wonder women are still fighting for equality when a tribunal charged with upholding rights is a toothless tiger

nick said...

Kylie: What's really disheartening is that a woman in the same position today would probably be treated only slightly better. She would still be discriminated against, though she might get a higher settlement.

Bijoux said...

I've only heard of gag orders in relation to court trials and not employment. Mostly, it seems that employers are under gag orders themselves in regards to ever speaking about former employees, besides confirmation of employment.

nick said...

Bijoux: It seems gagging orders are used in a very different way in the States. I've never heard of a British gagging order that applies to employers rather than employees. And are you saying that confirmation of a job can depend on signing a gagging order?

Bijoux said...

No, just that employers here will never comment on a past employee beyond a confirmation that the person worked there. IOW, there's no such thing as references anymore. Employers are too afraid of lawsuits.

nick said...

Bijoux: Oh I see. That's very interesting, there's no such restriction here, it's still commonplace to ask someone for several references, and I've never heard of anyone suing a referee.