The scandal of the Presidents Club is another high profile example of the abuse of women workers and the inadequacies of the law.
There have been numerous press reports of the event this week, following the revelations from under cover FT journalist, Madison Marriage. It is shocking that women working at a man-only event should be subjected to such physical and verbal abuse in 2018, and it shows just how prevalent sexual harassment is.
From the employment law perspective the story highlights the vulnerability of many workers and the inadequacies of the law.
The women were at work and subjected to extreme sexual harassment during the course of the evening. The harassment was committed, not by the employer, but by customers. The coalition government, in 2013, repealed provisions in the Equality Act which made third party harassment unlawful. It is precisely the Presidents Club type of situation that such a law was aimed at and this week’s news shows just how necessary such protections are.
The women may still be able to bring claims against the agency if they can show that it was reasonably foreseeable that they would be subjected to harassment.
The situation also demonstrates just how vulnerable workers employed through agencies or on a temporary basis can be. While the Equality Act covers the broader definition of ‘workers’ rather than employees, it is often complex to establish that individual workers are covered. Also of course those on atypical, temporary, or zero hours contracts may feel that they cannot raise concerns for fear of not being given further assignments.
It is reported that the women, who were recruited via an agency to work at the event, were required to sign a 5 page non-disclosure agreement (NDA) at the start of the evening. NDAs are usually only required in respect of commercially sensitive information. They should not be used as an attempt to intimidate workers or to require them to ‘cover up’ such outrageous behaviour.
The validity of those NDAs must be disputable and they would certainly not have been sufficient to deny the workers’ rights to bring claims under the Equality Act. However this case highlights the need for Government action to restrict the use of NDAs.
Hopefully the shock and outrage from this situation will be a rallying call for stronger laws to protect women at work. We will continue to press for:
- Stronger legal protections against sexual harassment at work
- The express outlawing of third party harassment and ensuring the employer and/or hirer are liable
- Clarification of the employment status rules and certainty that all workers will be covered
- Restrictions on the use of non-disclosure agreements