Companies should issue statements saying they will not enforce non-disclosure deals on sexual harassment allegations, according to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
These hush deals could have allowed “serial harassers” to continue their abuse of power and cloak the issue of workplace sexual harassment, according to Jenkins.
They may also be preventing individuals from sharing their stories with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s sexual harassment inquiry.
Jenkins wrote to the ‘Male Champions of Change’ as well as the head of industry groups on Friday asking companies to offer a “limited waiver” on such deals, so that individuals who are currently silenced by such agreements can share their stories with the Inquiry.
Writing in the Australian Financial Review today, Jenkins says a huge number of sexual harassment cases are raised and responded to within employers, but “non-disclosure agreements mean we know very little about them.”
“I am calling on Australian employers to agree to a limited waiver of their confidentiality agreements to allow submissions on workplace sexual harassment for the duration of the National Inquiry,” she writes. “I want all parties to NDAs to be able to talk to us confidentially or make confidential submissions.”
In an Op Ed in this morning’s @FinancialReview I call on Australian employers to make a limited waiver of their non-disclosure agreements for the National Workplace Sexual Harassment Inquiry #AusWSH https://t.co/53jC8MZslj #EveryonesBusiness
— Kate Jenkins (@Kate_Jenkins_) November 19, 2018
She asks if confidential settlement clauses potentially led to an increase in workplace sexual harassment, including by enabling serial offers to continue such abuse, seeing employers underestimating the prevalence of the issue and its impact on the business, and managers failing to show leadership to prevent sexual harassment.
“Is it possible that we have come to accept inappropriate behaviour, harassment and bullying because negative consequences for perpetrators are rare?” she writes.
Jenkins also clarifies that the Inquiry is not making findings on sexual harassment allegations, but rather wants to hear individual experiences in order to better inform its understanding of “systemic issues”.
The AFR reports today that a number of large employers, including the Commonwealth Bank, have said they are “open” to waiving confidentiality agreement in order to assist with the Inquiry.