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Non-disparagement agreements used to violate employee rights

Non-disparagement agreements, better known as NDAs, are fairly common in the business world. Ontario residents may have come across employment scenarios in which they have been asked to sign agreements that forbid them from discussing or speaking poorly of a company and its activities outside of the context of the business. Unfortunately, some experts in employee rights believe these agreements are quickly becoming a cover for abuses in the workplace. 

One report gives the example of a Los Angeles-based tech startup that allegedly fostered a culture of misogyny and sexual hostility against the company's comparatively few female employees. However, the exact nature of these abuses cannot be confirmed, since employees signed NDAs forbidding them from discussing these events. Employment lawyers have noted that the tech industry is particularly ripe for these sorts of abuses since NDAs are very common when dealing with sensitive intellectual property. 

This causes a litany of difficulties from an employment law standard. On one hand, it limits the law's ability to police and correct these behaviours since they cannot be accurately reported. On the other, it also causes a danger to prospective new employees who will legally not be entitled to know about a company's potentially shady past. Many employment lawyers agree the nature of these contracts needs to be scrutinized more carefully in order to avoid employers from using them as smoke screens for harassment. 

It is pleasant to believe that businesses in Ontario and across the nation are invested in employee rights, but this is sometimes not the case. Thankfully, even in the face of problematic NDAs, legal support exists for employees facing harassment and discrimination in the workplace. An experienced employment lawyer can help to find alternative solutions when a legally-binding contract prevents employees from proceeding through the usual channels. 

Source: The New York Times, "Abuses Hide in the Silence of Non-disparagement Agreements", Katie Benner, July 21, 2017

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