Victorian lawyers demand end to confidentiality agreements in sexual harassment cases

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While contracts can protect a company’s commercial interests, keep cases out of court, and provide anonymity to plaintiffs and accused perpetrators, agreements can have perverse effects.

Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, for example, bought the silence of the women he was accused of assaulting, using confidentiality clauses that kept his conduct from being exposed.

As investigations into Harvey Weinstein’s behavior gained ground, more and more of his alleged victims have come forward to break their forced silence.Credit:Getty Images

Ms Blandthorn, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, had clients with agreements so broad that they prevented survivors from explaining why they left their workplace, or even telling their families and friends about what had happened.

The acts of release within the framework of agreements systematically attach “no fault” to the author.

“Numerous [survivors] are angry that although they have to leave the workplace as part of the legal resolution, the alleged harasser often remains in their role in the workplace as if nothing had happened, ”said Ms Blandthorn.

Workplace Safety Minister Ingrid Stitt (right) announced the ministerial task force in March, which will be co-chaired by Liberty Sanger (center) and Bronwyn Halfpenny.

Workplace Safety Minister Ingrid Stitt (right) announced the ministerial task force in March, which will be co-chaired by Liberty Sanger (center) and Bronwyn Halfpenny.Credit:Simon schluter

The task force, created by Workplace Safety Minister Victoria Ingrid Stitt and chaired by Workplace Safety Parliamentary Secretary Bronwyn Halfpenny and lawyer Liberty Sanger, is expected to finalize recommendations soon, including on the use of ‘nondisclosure agreements, which will go to the state government. .

Ms Sanger, a work-related compensation lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, said confidentiality clauses could still be used in settlements to protect identities and monies paid while removing nondisclosure agreements.

“It’s a deal without the punitive labor of an NDA, which effectively cuts off the worker’s tongue, making them forever mute,” she said.

The task force took a close look at what happened in Ireland, where a bill prohibiting the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment at work, except at the request of an employee , received unanimous support in the upper house of parliament.

Last years Respect @ Work Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ report was also an integral part of the task force’s work.

Niki Vincent is Victoria's first public sector gender equality commissioner.

Niki Vincent is Victoria’s first public sector gender equality commissioner.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Victoria’s Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner Niki Vincent is examining, for the first time, the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in the public sector.

“What we’re looking at is how widespread the use of nondisclosure agreements is… because we don’t actually know it,” she said.

Dr Vincent said the data collected would be publicly available and searchable on the commission’s website.

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“We hope this transparency will bring about change,” she said.

James Fazzino, co-organizer of Champions of Change, a group of business leaders committed to gender equality, said: a case of harassment and, most importantly, this is what we are doing about it ‘ .

BHP, which has revealed that at least 48 workers have been fired from its mines in Western Australia for sexual harassment over the past two years, announced that the company has stopped using confidentiality clauses in labor agreements. regulation, and it demanded the same from its subcontractors.

Mr Fazzino, also president of Manufacturing Australia, said he was aware of another company that had introduced a key performance indicator that measured who continued to work for the company following a sexual harassment complaint.

“It’s a great metric because it shows whether you’re right or not. In many cases, the man stays. It’s outrageous, isn’t it?

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