EMPLOYERS using gagging clauses to silence employees who are victims of sexual abuse and racism are to be targeted in new legislation.

The new rules, announced today, will mean that those who sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) will not be prevented from talking to the police, health professionals, lawyers and social workers.

Independent legal advice is also to be offered to those signing NDAs to make them aware of their rights, what they are signing and tell them they are still able to speak to professionals about what they have experienced.

Government ministers say it will help to "stamp out misuse" of the controversial clauses, which have been alleged to have been used by several high-profile business people to stifle claims of misconduct against them.

It comes after Sir Philip Green's company Arcadia was accused of using NDAs to silence employees who had concerns about the tycoon's behaviour, including allegations of sexual and racist harassment.

Green has denied all the allegations against him which were revealed last year by Lord Hain, using parliamentary privilege to get around a court injunction Green had taken against the media.

Others reported to have used such contracts, which are often accompanied by a significant amount of cash as a settlement, include Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein.

The Herald on Sunday previously revealed how Scottish Government minster Ash Denham and MP Pete Wishart had used non-disclosure agreements with former employees.

Denham is said to have used the controversial orders twice, and made payments to three staff, who left her employ following disagreements.

Experts said that while NDAs can be misused by employers, in political terms they could be used by employees to make money from politicians who want to preserve their reputation.

Lawyers at Scots firm Thompsons Solicitors had recommended to a government committee that businesses should be required to publish the number of NDAs they had used regularly, in the hope it may clamp down on abuse of the contracts.

The new legislation comes as part fo a wider look at how sexual harassment is tackled in the workplace.

UK Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “The vast majority of businesses comply with the law and use NDAs legitimately – from protecting commercially sensitive information to preventing information being shared with competitors.

“As we have seen in the news recently, there are a handful of employers using NDAs to cover-up criminal acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment, assault and racist discrimination.

“We will not tolerate the use of NDAs to silence and intimidate victims from speaking out. The new legislation will stamp out misuse, tackle unacceptable workplace cultures, protect individuals and create a level playing field for businesses that comply with the law.”

Chief executive of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said: “Harassment and discrimination should never go unanswered and unchallenged just because victims are prevented from speaking out. This new legislation will help to end ambiguity about employees’ rights and stop the misuse of NDAs to protect corporate and personal reputations and obstruct justice.

“The use of NDAs is only part of the problem of workplace harassment and discrimination, and employers must step up to protect their employees from this appalling behaviour before it happens. We are developing new guidance on NDAs and tackling harassment which will provide further clarity for employers and help them create safe and supportive working environments.”

Currently, confidentiality clauses, or NDAs, cannot prevent an individual from reporting wrongdoing in the public interest, known as making a protected disclosure or "whistleblowing". These could include a criminal offence, danger to health and safety, or failing to comply with a legal obligation. Confidentiality clauses and NDAs can also not prevent an individual from taking a matter to an employment tribunal.