Women stood on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in London on May 14, 2024, in a campaign led by Pregnant Then Screwed and Can’t Buy My Silence against the misuse of NDAs and confidentiality clauses against mothers in the UK.

Research from Pregnant Then Screwed, in partnership with Women In Data, has found that 435, 293 mothers in the UK (3.47 per cent) are estimated to have been gagged by an NDA following discrimination, bullying and harassment at work.

The data also revealed the impact that NDAs and confidentiality clauses have on mothers’ lives, with three-quarters (78 per cent) of mothers who have signed one reporting mental health deterioration as a result.

One quarter (26.6 per cent) of mothers who have signed an NDA would sign again if given an option, and less than a third (30 per cent) believe they were fairly compensated after their ordeal.

One mother who signed an NDA explained, “I was asked to sign an NDA to cover maternity discrimination and a second time to cover harassment. The process of negotiating the NDA made me feel suicidal. The NDA was presented to me at the end of a gruelling process that had to end; otherwise, I would have had to sell my home. The lasting impact of the NDA was ruinous.”

Another mother explained, “Signing an NDA with a large UK employer was the most isolating and difficult experience I’ve ever been through. It affects me to this day. At the time of signing, I was so distraught and so desperate to find a way out of a difficult situation that I had no real understanding of how much the agreement itself would affect my confidence long-term or how it would sever my contact with a community of colleagues I’d known for years.”

Lauren Fabianski, head of campaigns and communications for Pregnant Then Screwed, said, “NDAs have become a toxic tool that allows unscrupulous employers to quite literally pay victims to keep their mouths shut about horrific injustices. They mask discrimination, harassment and criminal abuse from the public and even the employees’ friends and family. This immoral practice undermines laws meant to protect workers and creates a culture of secrecy where perpetrators face no consequences.”

Zelda Perkins, founder of Can’t Buy My Silence, explained, “The use of NDAs to gag women about the discrimination or abuse that they have faced at work is not only unethical but a further abuse that lasts indefinitely as NDAs are forever. These agreements not only silence women when they are in a vulnerable position but can hide the settlement amount offered, which enables employers to pay them less than they are entitled to by law. This is not only immoral but in many cases illegal.”

Pregnant Then Screwed and Can’t Buy My Silence have launched a petition demanding the government make NDAs unenforceable in cases related to discrimination, harassment, or other unlawful behaviours. This change would prevent them from being used to cover up wrongdoing and protect the integrity of employment law.