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School of Law

Labour Law

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2015/2016
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Full Year

This course will examine the crucial and fast-moving field of labour/employment law and employment-related equality law in the UK.

This area of law engages with many issues which will affect most people during their working lives. A central theme of the course is the question of what is or should be the main purpose of labour law – to protect workers by correcting inequalities of bargaining power or to support flexibility and competitiveness in the labour market? Other questions for consideration include: Why does the law intervene to protect some categories of workers but not others? What rights does a worker have if he or she is dismissed? Does equality in the workplace always mean treating people the same or does it sometimes require that difference be accommodated? The substantive areas covered will vary from year to year but will typically include: the contract of employment; regulation of dismissals; collective representation and the role of trade unions; human rights in the workplace; equality (or anti-discrimination) law related to areas such as sex, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age; regulation of the ‘work-life’ balance.

The course will help students both to gain a deep understanding of the framework of UK labour/employment and equality law, and also to appraise the law on its own terms, and also from other points of view. The objective will be for students to gain insight into the substance and the mechanisms of labour law, but also to have an understanding of how these interact with social, economic and political developments.

The course will be taught through weekly 2-hour seminars.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • critically analyse and evaluate the competing ideologies and the effect of political, social and economic policies on the legal principles underpinning collective and individual labour/employment law and employment-related equality law;
  • exhibit a good understanding of the ideas, doctrines and framework sustaining labour and equality law;
  • show an ability to critically appraise the law, not only on its own terms – for example for clarity, consistency and coherence – but also from other points of view;
  • identify and critique the nature and scope of problems or disputes faced by employing enterprises and employees/workers that may be the subject of legal resolution or otherwise;
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the law in regulating industrial relations, individual employment relationships, human rights and equality in the workplace
  • develop an ability to apply this knowledge to hypothetical problems;
  • develop an awareness of areas of potential legal reform;

Students will also have developed their analytical, communication and research skills, as well as their capacity to understand and evaluate complex legal sources and literature. It is hoped that students will also develop a continuing interest in the study, research or practice of labour and equality law.

Scope and syllabus

From this relatively large field, the course will pick out central themes, such that the substantive areas covered will typically include:

  1. An introduction to the study of employment law in its political and economic context
  2. The contract of employment: the problem of distinguishing employees from other workers
  3. The flexibilization of employment and the growth of 'atypical' work
  4. Formation and interpretation of the employment contract
  5. Termination of employment at common law
  6. Unfair dismissal: the general framework
  7. Unfair dismissal: the fairness of the dismissal
  8. Economic restructuring and dismissal: redundancy & reorganization of work
  9. Human rights and employment law: an introduction
  10. Human rights and employment law: freedom of association
  11. Human rights and employment law: is there a right to strike in UK law?
  12. Collective representation and the role of trade unions
  13. Ideas about equality: making sense of anti-discrimination legislation
  14. Race and sex discrimination I: the concept of direct discrimination
  15. Race and sex discrimination II: the concept of indirect discrimination
  16. Prohibited grounds of discrimination: a focus on disability and age
  17. Prohibited grounds of discrimination: a focus on ‘religion or belief’ and sexual orientation
  18. Positive action and the era of positive duties to promote equality
  19. Work-life balance and family-friendly policies.

Method of assessment

100% unseen examination.