Competing interests lead to more confusion concerning NDAs

On 21 July (oddly given that it was a Sunday) the Government announced what it described as “measures to prevent misuse of confidentiality clauses in situations of workplace harassment or discrimination. Frankly the press releases are light on detail. However, the four main changes are as follows:

  • Employers will have to make clear the limitations of a confidentiality clause, in plain English, within the settlement agreement and in the form of a written statement for the employee. In other words there will have to be a notice to the employee within the agreement which clearly explains what the clause does not cover.
  • Current legislation will be extended so that it will be a requirement for all individuals signing an NDA (whether or not contained within a settlement agreement) to obtain what is described as enhanced independent legal advice, presumably at the employer’s expense. This is potentially interesting because it raises the possibility that employees may need to obtain such advice at the commencement of or during employment, perhaps even before the commencement of employment. Much will depend on the definition of what constitutes a regulated NDA and that information, perhaps unsurprisingly, has not been published.
  • All NDAs must make clear that the restrictions will not prevent the employee from disclosing the otherwise protected information to the police, regulated care and health professionals, social workers and, interestingly, legal professionals. As matters stand, most settlement agreements include a confidentiality clause which provides that not only the terms but even the existence of the agreement must be kept confidential, save for immediate family members and relevant professional advisers (i.e. those advising the employee concerning the agreement).
  • Enforcement measures will introduced to deal with settlement agreements and written statements of employment particulars that do not comply with the regulations, including that non-compliant NDAs will be legally void.

You’re fired? – Trump v UK Ambassador row

Another week, another news story related to Donald Trump albeit, this time, definitely not ‘fake news’. In summary, an unknown individual leaked a diplomatic cable from Sir Kim Darroch, the UK Ambassador to the USA, in which Sir Kim called President Trump “insecure” and “incompetent”.

Following this, and without an absence of irony, President Trump then demonstrated that alleged insecurity by announcing that his administration would no longer speak with Sir Kim and, long story cut short, Sir Kim resigned his position.

Rather than focus on the political side of things, this story is interesting because it reflects a common fear of many employers, namely an employee leaking highly confidential information to hurt them. In this case, it is very likely that a civil service or staff member leaked the information to hurt Sir Kim’s position (and, in that sense, they were ultimately successful!)

Let’s have a quick look at the employment law impact of a similar situation. So, within our hypothetical example, we have Rule Britannia Mugs Ltd, who sell British branded mugs to other countries. Their biggest customer is White House Trading PLC in the USA, who love mugs displaying pictures of red telephone boxes, London buses and union flags! However, an employee leaks an email from the Finance Director within which the Director states ‘we needn’t worry about quality, Americans will buy any old tat’ and it becomes viral on social media. What happens next?

Shocking behaviour revealed at Marine Scotland

A whistleblower who complained of a racist and misogynistic workplace culture at a Scottish Government controlled Marine Scotland office has claimed she was restrained in a chair and gagged by two male co-workers in response to her speaking out.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick is a civil servant and Canadian national employed as a fisheries officer at Marine Scotland’s office in Scrabster on the Caithness coast, Scotland. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to bullying, harassment and a sustained pattern of racist and misogynistic behaviour over a period of nearly ten years whilst working at the office. Her claims are currently being considered at an employment tribunal in Aberdeen. Allegations include that she was mocked for having a miscarriage, advised by co-workers that they didn’t want to work with a ‘foreign woman’ and subjected to racist language. Fitzpatrick has been unable to work and has been signed off on sick leave since November 2016, after also experiencing a family bereavement during this time.

BBC Scotland have obtained and released a photograph of the described event earlier this month, taken by one of the men allegedly responsible. It pictures Ms Fitzpatrick gagged and secured in the chair with packaging tape. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to the treatment as a result of ‘blowing the whistle’ on the behaviour of her male colleagues. She has stated that in 2010, two male colleagues had restrained her in the chair before telling her ‘This is what you get when you speak out against the boys’. When Ms Fitzpatrick reported the incident to her manager she was advised that he would ‘have words’ with the colleagues involved but the matter was not reportedly escalated any further.

While the Tribunal proceedings are ongoing, Ms Fitzpatrick is also understood to be involved in disciplinary procedures in the workplace with a hearing due at the end of May.

Do employees have to disclose their intention to compete?

In the case of MPT Group Ltd v Peel and others [2017] EWHC 1222 (Ch), the High Court was asked to decide whether employees were under a duty to disclose their intention to compete to their employer. The facts of the case were that Mr Peel and Mr Birtwistle were employed by MPT Group Ltd…