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Why employment law should be taught at school

Malcolm Mackay, founder  of United Employment Lawyers, considers how the addition of employment law to the school curriculum would be of value to the younger generation.

Head teachers and educationists could be forgiven for not wishing to load extra subject matter onto the crowded curriculum. So, at the risk of incurring the ire of the teaching profession, I’d like to gently suggest that employment law be given a slot in the fifth and six year school study period. In recognising that school time is at a premium I would make the point that this would not have to be a particularly time consuming process at the school stage.  Employment law matters are highlighted every day in the media and are almost without exception interesting at both the human and legal levels. Thus all that is required at the school stage is to highlight the key principles to facilitate informed awareness of developments in the field as they play out in the media.

This is the generation of Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and the almighty Facebook, so creating a suitable downloadable app that is visually engaging, to-the-point and topical might be the solution – but it only takes you so far. However, a proper face-to-face experience with a real-life employment law practitioner would be time well spent for many young people

So surely the education system can find time to discuss how the employment market has rock and rolled since the 1970s and how employment legislation has secured the rights of young people finding their way, whether they are modern apprentices, heading off to university and supporting themselves with part-time employment, or actually finding a settled career path. The fact that the law governing working relationships has extended well beyond traditional employment law strengthens the point. Publicity surrounding individual rights in the burgeoning gig economy brings into focus the sheer complexity of the issues.

It is well recognised there is no such thing as a ‘job for life’ and the average young person is expected to do around ten different jobs throughout their 40 years lifespan of work and thus likely to encounter a mix of employment, self employment and quasi employment relationships.

Of course, there are other areas of the law that are appropriate for young people to understand, particularly how the criminal justice system operates and their future role as active citizens. Many schools already experience an informal visit from a lawyer to talk in general about the profession. But employment law has a direct impact on their every-day working lives. That, in my view, is far more directly pertinent to a typical teenager than perhaps learning about a juror’s responsibility in a High Court trial, although this does not diminish the solemn appreciation of justiciary’s important work.

Employment law is a whole legal system in its own right with its own principles, procedures and history. Our education system owes it to the younger generation to broach this subject matter at some stage.

Many young people finding it tough to get into work and, without a reasonable understanding or their rights and working responsibilities, they may end up being in a place of work that is simply not suitable for them.

 A contract of employment could be one of the most important documents – and probably the first – they will ever sign, yet it is unlikely they will be able to afford legal advice, relying on a parent or guardian to give it a ‘once over’.

This is not really good enough for today’s young generation. For example, the UK’s hospitality industry requires hundreds of thousands of young people to serve and support the hotels, bars and restaurants and the major national events, from the Open Golf and Chelsea Flower Show to Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. What happens if a young person is hurt or injured during their time in part-time seasonal work? It is crucial that young people know what the situation is before signing on.

Furthermore, with Brexit, more young UK people will be needed to undertake the seasonal work in farms and in agricultural plants. So do they have a contract to support their labour?

Today we have created a vast entrepreneurial culture in the UK encouraging young people to set up their own businesses. All well and good. They may also find the cost of taking proper legal advice when making their first hires too hefty. But employment mistakes can be expensive.

So surely some kind of instruction on the rudiments of contracts is well worth undertaking. Even if is not part of the formal school curriculum, employment lawyers and HR professionals could offer to volunteer their time at high schools in those ‘care-free’ weeks after the exams and before the end of term. Many do so at universities and bring valuable practical experience to law students as visiting professors or guest lecturers. Adapting this practice to the school agenda is straightforward. Apart from the practical benefits of helping young people, it will also showcase employment law as a fulfilling career choice. So it’s not a bad thing if employment lawyers can help inspire future members of the legal profession at an early stage.

Finally, having some school experience of employment law can be helpful to those go go on to study law at university. The bewildering complexity of this area of law can make it difficult to reach an informed decision as to what to go on to study at university so some advance knowledge of this and associated areas such as human rights, equality, immigration and health and safety may help focus the mind.

This is a global issue.

I would be interested in the views of others, particularly educationalists and students on the point.