CEO of YESS, Camilla Palmer named honorary QC for employment/equality work
It’s wonderful to be given an award and celebrate it. I am delighted to be appointed an honorary QC for the work I have done in employment and equality. I was also honoured and grateful when so many top discrimination lawyers supported me.
But, I also know very well that many others have worked tirelessly for equality and they also should be publicly recognised for their work. Equality laws have developed a lot over the last 20 years, thanks to equality campaigners, and that is to be celebrated. The Equality Act is so important when we still have a glass ceiling for women, black and minority ethnic groups, disabled workers and others. We may have strong discrimination laws but enforcing them is increasingly difficult.
Challenging employment discrimination in courts and tribunals is vital. For example, Miriam O’Reilly’s claim against the BBC highlighted the prevalence of ageism in the media (particularly against older women). It exposed practices from which many women media professionals had suffered for a long time and a recognition that there had to be change. But, that is only the beginning and progress is slow.
For many individual employees a tribunal win does not give them their jobs back nor enough money to compensate them for losing their job. And for that they pay a high price: uncertainty about the outcome, stress, time, costs and the career impact. It feels as if life is on hold for the duration of the case. Even once it’s over, moving on is sometimes hard. I know that from personal experience.
There has always been a downside to litigating. In recent times it’s got harder still with stiff fees for bringing tribunal cases and cuts in legal aid and advice agencies.
YESS advises employees with workplace problems but who do not want to bring a tribunal claim unless there is no other option. Our strapline ‘Life’s too short to litigate’ resonates with many. The risk, however, is that some employers will feel secure in the knowledge that most employees will not sue so the law has less bite.
Settlement has a price of its own. Employers insist on a gagging clause as a condition of paying the employee compensation. These prevent others finding out about discriminatory practices and some employers feel free to discriminate. Should gagging clauses be banned? Sometimes I think they should so that the discrimination is exposed but this would make settlement of a claim harder still.
Should there be more naming and shaming of repeat offenders? The impact of social media can be widespread and powerful, but it’s also risky for an individual.
Do we now need to focus instead on the carrot, ie by incentivising employers to compete to have the best employment practices, such as flexible working, maternity and parental pay? YESS is currently helping the EHRC and Maternity Action to identify Good Practice and disseminate it to others.
There is a long way to go and we need some pragmatic solutions – including from political parties in their election manifestos. We should the ball rolling with some imaginative and practical ideas?
Camilla Palmer QC (Hon) email@example.com