I’ve got a Deed of Release - lessons to be learned from Amber Harrison

It’s a regular experience in our office to negotiate people out of councils, for a variety of reasons including redundancies, where the settlement reached is wrapped up in a Deed of Release. It’s a standard provision in a Deed of Release that both the employee and the Council acknowledge the confidentiality of the settlement, waive any other industrial or common law rights of redress (other than workers compensation) and accept a mutual no disparagement clause. A Deed protects the confidentiality of the settlement and prevents the parties bagging each other.

Sometimes our members ask how binding these provisions are but if those provisions are breached, then the Council can take legal action to seek redress. Fortunately this hasn’t happened. If the Council breaches the provisions of the Deed, then the employee can take legal action. It’s an agreed mutual obligation.

But if we needed a reminder about the importance of complying with confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions, it was delivered in the sordid battleground following an affair between Channel Seven CEO Tim Worner and a staff member Amber Harrison in the last weeks. The Supreme Court found that Ms Harrison had breached confidentiality provisions and done a whole range of things which Ms Harrison had agreed in a Deed of Release not to do - in return for some hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What can only be described as astonishing levels of legal costs incurred by Channel 7 in defending the obligations contained within the Deed have now been ordered by the Court to be paid by Ms Harrison. Ms Harrison says it will bankrupt her.

While there are some critics of this prurient exercise as it played out like some tacky Hollywood reality show that the “Boys Club wins”, the underlying lesson to be learned by everyone is that if you sign a Deed of Release requiring you to keep things confidential and not disparage anyone, you had bloody well better do so.