WHETHER it’s down to Harvey Weinstein or the Presidents Club, one legal phrase has entered the popular lexicon like no other – and the chances are you’ve heard of it. NDAs or “non-disclosure agreements”.

Few legal practices have proven quite so controversial in the last year because of the suggestion that the confidentiality clauses have been abused.

A wave of whistleblowers from historic sexual harassment cases, inspired by the #MeToo movement, have dragged the issue firmly – and quite rightly – into the spotlight.

Significant concerns have since arisen about their use, and potential misuse, by employers.

But how many people know what a non-disclosure agreement actually is? What are they for – but just as importantly – what are they not for? Would you know what to do if you were asked to sign one?

As solicitors, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone knows their rights within the boundaries of the law.

The Northern Echo:

Confidentiality clauses are used as part of the process for ending disputes between employers and workers. There are many legitimate reasons for this – sometimes, it can allow you to resolve a dispute confidentially without going to a tribunal or court. It can provide much-needed closure for both sides, allowing them to move on.

You may also be asked to sign an agreement before starting a project, to stop business secrets and sensitive information becoming public.

It does place legal restrictions upon you.

But it cannot stop you from reporting a crime to the police. Nor can it be used to prevent whistleblowing in the public interest. It cannot lawfully restrict you from talking to the police or a regulator about issues between you and your employer.

You should never sign an agreement if you feel under undue pressure. You cannot be forced to sign an agreement if you do not accept the terms on offer.

If you do choose to sign an agreement, you must be sure it works for you and your family – now, but also into the future.

This means knowing who you can and cannot speak to, any time limits on the confidentiality, and how to approach it with future employers. If you do choose to sign you should always ask for a copy of the agreement, so you have a record of what has been agreed.

If in doubt, always seek independent legal advice from a qualified solicitor. This can give you the knowledge, awareness and confidence to make an informed choice when the time comes.

This Legal Expert column has been produced by the Law Society.

  • Simon Davis is President of the Law Society of England and Wales