Employment law

Employment law is the body of law that governs the relationship between working people and their employers. At any given time, around three-quarters of adults in the UK are in work, so labour law affects a huge number of people for a significant period of their lives.

The course covers the rights and responsibilities of working people and employers at all stages during the relationship, including hiring and firing, and everything that happens in between. We consider topics such as the role of equality law in the workplace in tackling discrimination, entitlement to the National Minimum Wage, and the regulation of working hours. We also look at the changing nature of modern workplaces and the impact of the ‘gig economy’ on the way in which we traditionally think about employment relationships. Around 23% of employees are trade union members, and many more have a trade union presence in their workplace, so we consider how trade unions interact with their members and how they represent people at work, and at the role played by strike action. 

Labour law manages to be both a highly useful subject and an intellectually stimulating one. There are plenty of opportunities to use your knowledge in practice as a solicitor or barrister, or just to be aware of your own rights at work. But the subject also throws up big questions about dignity, rights, justice and fairness, as well as about how to build a thriving economy. Political parties on the right or left generally have quite different ideas about what labour law should look like, so the subject should be of considerable interest to anyone who is concerned with the interaction between law, politics and society.

The course takes a thematic approach: you are not expected to acquire a detailed knowledge of the whole of this relatively large and complex field, but to be able to pick out the central themes, and integrate them into the wider social and theoretical context. We anticipate that this year’s exam will require you to answer four questions from a choice of ten.

The subject is taught by means of a programme of seminars in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, and by tutorials which are co-ordinated with them. We cover four topics in Michaelmas and three in Hilary, and there is an introductory session at the start of Michaelmas. For each of the seven topics, we will provide a two-hour seminar introducing the material, with ample opportunity for you to ask questions and take part in discussion. There will be a total of four tutorials for the course, allowing you to focus on issues of particular interest to you and to explore the way in which different parts of the course fit together. We may offer an additional session in Hilary Term covering a ‘hot topic’ of current interest or dealing with recent developments, in order to help with your revision.

Learning outcomes: an understanding of the central themes of labour law, including individual and collective topics, and the associated social and political context.