Two of Australia’s major banks have admitted to issuing gag orders for sexual harassment complaints made by employees in at least the past three years.
In a House of Representatives economic hearing chaired by Liberal MP Tim Wilson on Friday, both Westpac and National Australia Bank confirmed nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) were in place for number staff members who had reported claims of sexual misconduct and harassment.
The revelation follows sexual misconduct scandals at both AMP and QBE, which led to two corporate executives being toppled last month.
Senator Deborah O’Neill told parliament in August that a former AMP employee was threatened with being sacked if she did not sign a NDA that stopped her from talking an alleged sexual harassment incident.
NAB chief executive Ross McEwan told the hearing, nine NDAs were signed by employees in the past three years relating to sexual misconduct, with five of the orders requested by the complainant.
The other four were either at the request of the bank or mutually agreed upon.
Mr Ross McEwan said one case of sexual harassment at the bank was “one too many”, however the number of agreements was not a reflection of its workplace culture.
“We have been developing a very strong culture in the organisation of speaking up, so people actually do take action,” he said.
“But I don’t think it is the case of policies and procedures not working.”
Westpac chief executive Peter King said the bank would not force employees to sign binding NDAs, but was unaware how many gag orders were in place at the bank.
“Over time it is not something we have tracked,” he said.
“We are removing them but even when they are in place … we will look at them case-by-case, but they are unlikely to be something that we will require.”
Commonwealth Bank and ANZ told the same committee on September 4 they had no known NDAs relating to sexual misconduct.
Mr McEwan said sexual misconduct complaints were escalated to the board and executive level.
Australia’s four major banks are being questioned by the federal parliament over its response to coronavirus pandemic, to determine how the country’s financial sector is performing during the economic downturn.
Mr McEwan in his opening statement said Australia needed a co-ordinated national plan for living with COVID-19, calling for a reopening of state borders.
“This will come from a nationally agreed approach to reopening the domestic economy and getting our borders open – and keeping them open,” he said.
“Without this certainty we risk wasting the support provided so far and further crushing business confidence.”
Mr King also noted lower household consumption would mean less activity for businesses.
NAB said ongoing lockdowns and the dip in economic activity would likely cause unemployment to rise to 10 per cent in first quarter of the 2021 calendar year.
Westpac said about 168,000 mortgage and small business customers had placed their loans on hold due to the recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
NAB said 77,000 home loans and 37,000 business loans had been deferred.
Originally published as Banks admit to hushing sex complaints