More than 50 staff have been paid off by Bexley Council in the past four years, it has been revealed.

Compromise agreements, which can involve ‘gagging’ or confidentiality orders, are usually struck up when an employee facing redundancy or workplace issues leaves.

Under the agreement an employer asks the employee to sign on the line in return for a payoff.

Since 2014 Bexley Council has entered into 55 non-disclosure agreements with staff, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

These agreements have cost the council upwards of £800k in contractual benefits.

Settlement agreements are often seen as controversial because under the Public Interest Disclosure Act whistle-blowers are supposed to be protected.

The money is handed over under legal contracts in which the departing worker receives an increased pay-off in return for promising not to challenge their departure in a court or tribunal and not to talk about it in the media.

In 2014, 10 staff were silenced, in each of 2015 and 2016 there were 18 agreements and last year nine deals were made.

Whistle-blowers are staff who report wrongdoing at their workplace – they are protected by the law and should not be treated differently for raising issues.

A spokesman for Bexley Council said the agreements were not made to gag employees.

A spokesman said: “The total amount you quote includes payments to which individuals are entitled under the terms of their contracts of employment, including pay in lieu of notice, redundancy pay and for leave that is owed.

“Like most employers, we sometimes enter into settlement agreements with staff to resolve difficult issues. It is wrong to suggest that the reason for such agreements is to ‘gag’ employees. Agreements make it clear that nothing will prevent employees raising issues that could be regarded as whistle-blowing.

“Settlement agreements are often requested by staff or their representatives so that the terms on which they leave an organisation are clear. They also allow the employer and employee to end an employment relationship in a manner that protects both parties from the risk of expense and uncertainty that could come with litigation through the courts or a tribunal.

“Before entering into an agreement, the employee is required by law to take advice from a suitable independent legal adviser or trade union representative.”