For several years I watched my former employer blatantly breaking the law in various ways, while I was naively wondering how they were going to get away with it. Obviously, I didn’t know much about NDAs back then. All my former colleagues I spoke to left with NDAs.
After many years of begging my former employer to bring my pay in line with my male colleagues I finally made my formal request. Intimidation and harassment started straight away and never stopped. I instigated a grievance and I was effectively forced in to sick leave whilst my case was assessed.
I then started legal proceedings on limited funds. I looked for help everywhere, but none was forthcoming. At the same time my employer was enjoying unlimited resources in their actions against me.
Two years later I was financially broke and without any legal representation. During this time and because of the case I became disabled by severe anxiety and further serious health conditions as a result of prolonged severe stress. I could no longer cope and any further episode of my health condition could end my life. I had to settle to literally stay alive.
Looking at my settlement agreement now I see no settlement agreement, but only one giant NDA with a settlement clause in it.
My employer paid for a lawyer to check the settlement agreement on my behalf. The lawyer straight away said that the fee was limiting the scope of work only to checking the legality of the wording, but not the settlement terms and payments, as that would entail a review of the whole legal case. I had to negotiate settlement terms myself.
I was “negotiating” whilst lying in my sick bed and trying not to die from intimidation of the process. I was also put under time pressure. In total it was just few days, but on some of the points I had to agree within hours. All this was under so called “privileged communication”, so nobody will ever know.
My lawyer warned me that I had to confirm that I was happy with the terms of the settlement agreement otherwise it would not go ahead. Could I be happy with something that was imposed on me just because I was too weak to fight? I just wanted for the pain to stop. I had to say yes.
My lawyer did not make a single change to the settlement agreement drafted by my former employer. My lawyer had to be there only to make the agreement valid.
I will never stop questioning how such a process of signing an agreement is deemed to be legal.
The immediate relief of not being constantly intimidated was very short lived. I had to start looking for a job as soon as I could. My CV was strong and several times I made to the final interviews out of hundreds of candidates. When asked about the reasons for leaving my previous employment I had to say the words allowed by the NDA. These words could never satisfy any of my prospective employers and they continued questioning. I did not know how to answer and I could not stop questions by mentioning my NDA, as my NDA prevented me from doing so. It was very awkward and stressful. I felt it always was a turning point in my interviews. In few months nobody was calling me back anymore.
I was temporarily boosted by hope of going back to work and rebuilding my life, but then my mental health started to decline again. I had to ask NHS for support. The therapist gave me 24 sessions over above what is available on the NHS through a further 21 sessions of PTSD treatment. Every time I spoke to doctors I had to say that I had an NDA and asked for confidentiality and not to take recordings or notes.
My heart leapt when I heard that the Government was running a consultation regarding NDAs in discrimination cases. I straight away applied to take part. I now wish I hadn’t.
Preparing my evidence took a lot out of me, and then I was so taken aback to find out that the round tables were arranged only for lawyers and employers. The employees’ round table was arranged only as an afterthought of our enquiries. At the round table we were told that all changes regarding NDAs had been already worked out, but we could certainly say our thoughts. Several of us cried while telling our stories, but none of what we said was taken into consideration.
In the consultation materials I saw an NDA that was signed more than 20 years ago. Nothing has changed in 20 years, and, yet again lawyers and employers, i.e. the vested interested parties, ruled the “changes” in the discrimination cases NDAs. I felt employees were there so the Government could tick the box that we were included. I felt used.
The consultation also did not bother in responding to our enquiries on how the existing NDAs should be checked for compliance if none of us could afford lawyers’ fees. Our NDA gags were pushed further down our throats.
I have been recently checking the pay gap reporting. As shocking as the figures reported by my former employer are I know the real figures are worse, but who is checking? There must be other women who raised their pay concerns with my former employer, but we are being shot down one by one and we will never find each other as we are all silenced by NDAs. Pay gap will stay as long as NDAs are allowed.
I often hear that discrimination and harassment NDAs are not enforceable, and they are used just as a threat. If I think rationally I do believe that my former employer will never dare putting my settlement agreement in front of a judge. However, somehow, after what I have been through I am still very afraid.