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The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (“SRA”) has recently released new guidance for law firms on how to (not) deal with confidentiality clauses (referred to in the media as “gagging clauses”) if allegations of discrimination, harassment or victimisation are made.

The guidance states that, if allegations of discrimination are made by a lawyer against her law firm and these allegations are upheld, with a settlement agreement (containing confidentiality clauses) agreed, the law firm concerned must, despite the confidentiality obligations, report the allegations of discrimination to the SRA (as the SRA views discrimination as a misconduct that “comprises a serious breach of [a solicitor’s] regulatory obligations”). A failure to report a breach is also likely to be treated a a serious breach of regulatory obligations.

The guidance also states that confidentiality obligations will be viewed as improper if they

  • seek to prevent a third party from: 1) reporting misconduct or a breach of the SRA regulations (or make an equivalent report to another regulatory body); or 2) making a protected disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998; or 3) reporting an offence to a law enforcement agency; or 4) cooperating with a criminal investigation or prosecution;
  • use confidentiality obligation to influence the substance of such a report, disclosure or cooperation; or
  • use existing confidentiality obligations as a means of improperly threatening litigation against, or otherwise improperly seeking to influence, an individual in order to prevent or deter or influence a proper disclosure

The guidance also states that law firms must be particularly careful to ensure that if the employee is not represented there is no abuse of position or unfair advantage taken, and if the agreement is a “settlement agreement” under the Employment Rights Act 1996 then the employee must receive independent legal advice (see here for our analysis of the statutory requirements of settlement agreements)

This new guidance from the SRA comes in the wake of media scrutiny of confidentiality clauses, which was itself prompted by (among other things) the revelations that Harvey Weinstein used confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements to prevent ex-employees of his production company disclosing misconduct on his part.

Chris Hadrill, partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented: “This guidance from the SRA simply reinforces the obligation for solicitors to report misconduct in the workplace and, further, that they not attempt or endeavour to assist an attempt to prevent a third party from reporting regulatory breaches or making protected disclosures.”

About

Redmans Employment Team deal with employment matters for both employers and employees, including drafting employment contracts and policies, advising employers and employees on compromise agreements, handling day-to-day HR issues, advising on restructures, and handling Employment Tribunal cases for both employers and employees Call 020 3397 3603 to speak to one of the members of our employment team or email us on enquiries@redmans.co.uk. Redmans have offices in Richmond, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Fulham, Kingston, Wimbledon, Ealing, Kings Cross and Marylebone (meetings strictly by appointment only).

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Testimonials

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204 Reviews

Anonymous

Excellent advice and customer service.

Posted 4 weeks ago

Aneet G

I would definitely recommend Redmans. Very impressed with service provided. They were extremely proactive in handling my case which made things easier for me. Provided sound advice and resolution. Special credit for this goes to Chris who dealt with my case with great determination and consideration.

Posted 1 month ago

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Excellent, quick and informative. Chris was a real star and gave me confidence during the uncertainty if a redundancy settlement.

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Fabulous service all round.

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Anonymous

Redmans were quick to respond to my enquiry and dealt with my case professionally and personably. I received sound advice and was put at ease by Chris Hadrill, Partner.

Posted 1 month ago

Alkhas K

Excellent service.

Posted 1 month ago

Mathias G

Contacted them regarding my end of employment agreement. Chris Hadrill dealt with it and was done and handed back to employer same day more than happy with there service.

Posted 2 months ago

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Posted 3 months ago

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Posted 3 months ago

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They were very knowledgable in the respected area in terms of change in law/regulations that is crucial for the clients who are seeking for legal arvice.

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