A FORMER employee of an SNP MP was asked to sign a gagging clause after raising concerns about the politician's management practices.

Peter Wishart MP was alleged to have discussed issues about the staff member's personal social media account in front of other employees.

It is understood the staff member, who no longer works for the Perthshire MP, signed an exit agreement which included a confidentiality clause in 2017 before leaving the job.

Wishart is also understood to have had legitimate concerns about the staff member's behaviour during their time in his employ.

It comes after the Herald on Sunday revealed three former employees of serving government minister Ash Denham had been paid off after complaining about bullying in the MSP's office (not by the MSP), disability discrimination and alleged confidentiality breaches.

The latest example has prompted calls for an investigation into the extent of gagging clause usage within politics, with experts questioning whether they should be used at all.

One lawyer also suggested they could leave politicians themselves vulnerable to abuse as they try to protect their reputation.

A senior SNP source said: "Issues often arise with elected members when they go to Holyrood or Westminster, and they are under a lot of pressure to ensure they come across well.

"In some cases, they don't agree with an employee's way of working or how they are performing. In other cases they might not like the staff member, or the staff member may have genuinely acted in a way that was not appropriate.

"If the employee is at fault, it can then lead to them raising grievances if the politician doesn't handle disciplinary matters in a proper way, mainly because they aren't trained on how to do that.

"Not all MPs and MSPs are going to be good managers, no matter how good a politician they are.

"What is becoming increasingly clear is that proper employment practices are not being adhered to in a lot of cases, and as a result taxpayers money is being spent compensating employees, or getting them to sign these agreements, even if there is a legitimate reason for them leaving the politician's employment.

"Nobody wins here. The employee is out of a job, the taxpayer loses money, and the politician is down a staff member."

A House of Commons spokeswoman said: "Members are responsible for the employment of their own staff and we cannot comment on specific cases."

They also confirmed that the House of Commons does not record any information on the number of MPs staff members who leave their employment with an exit agreement, compensation payment or confidentiality clause.

The Herald on Sunday contacted the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish Conservatives about their politicians in Brussels, Edinburgh and London using non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses in this current parliamentary term..

A Scottish Labour spokeswoman said they were unable to provide the information, while the Scottish Conservatives said they were "not aware" of any such agreements being used, however admitted they would not necessarily be informed as the issue is between the politician, an employer, and their employee.

The spokesman added: "Most contracts in parliament are private matters between employees and [the politicians] themselves. However, the party is unaware of any non-disclosure agreements or compensation settlements in this parliamentary term.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has now called for an investigation into politicians' use of gagging clauses.

John Toner, NUJ organiser for Scotland said: "Non-disclosure agreements are a sad fact of life and the NUJ would prefer to see their use restricted to exceptional circumstances.

"We would certainly question their use by politicians, who should lead the way in transparency.

"Given the recent reports in the Herald on Sunday, we would welcome an investigation into their use by politicians.".

David Martyn, head of employment law at Thompson's Solicitors in Glasgow, said there could be an argument for banning the use of confidentially agreements by politicians altogether.

He said: "The question is, should there be a higher standard which applies to employees paid by the public purse? And should we, the public, have the right to know more about an individual MP or MSP in terms of the way they treat their staff?

"There could certainly be an argument to say the use of confidentiality clauses should not be allowed because of the element of transparency that is expected from politicians.

"Generally with these types of agreements, there is a power imbalance. It is presented as a choice by the employer, but ultimately if you've been offered a settlement agreement, 95% of times you will accept that. regardless of whether you think you've done anything wrong or who is at fault."

He added that in some cases they could be sued as a mechanism, to exploit politicians who may not be experts in employment law or management practices.

Mr Martyn explained: "If an employee does something wrong and the proper course of action is for it to be fully investigated and for there to be a disciplinary hearing, but all of that could be harmful to the reputation of the MP or MSP...The confidentiality clause or NDA circumvents all of that. Even is the MP or MSP hasn't actually done anything wrong, they may not want all of the negative attention and agree to settle with the employee.

"There definitely are areas where they could be exploited by an employee as well as an employer."

An SNP spokesman said he was unable to comment on individual staff cases.