In this guest post, renowned employment lawyer Camilla Palmer explains what led her to establish new charity Your Employment Settlement Service (YESS).
Many bemoan the gender equality gap at work and wonder why it persists after 40 years of equality legislation. My answer is: ‘It’s pregnancy stupid’ – at least a large part of it is down to pregnancy and maternity discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, and the long hours’ culture.
For 20 years I have advised and acted for women whose careers have come to an end because their pregnancy has put pay to promotion, career progression and sometimes their job. Too many employers assume that women will not return from maternity leave and if they do, they will have lost their commitment. Common scenarios for returning women are:
- Your maternity locum has been promoted so you will be reporting to him/her;
- There is a redundancy situation. We assessed you in your absence and Yes, you are the only person being made redundant;
- Your pay and terms and conditions will be the same when you return but we have re-allocated some of your responsibilities (the main ones as it happens),
- We did not want to disturb you while you were away so we re-structured and appointed a new person above you.
Why is there such inequality, isn’t there a law against it?
If you were pregnant or on maternity leave, looking after at least one baby, would you find the time, energy, money to sue your employer to enforce your rights?
Of course, there are a lot of very good employers out there who try to ensure that women do not drop out of work because of punishing long hours or maternity absence. YESS wants to work with these employers and encourage more to follow their example.
Finding a new way
After nearly 20 years of litigating, often for those who suffered discrimination because of their pregnancy or maternity leave, I have decided that enough is enough. Why? Because I see too many employees damaged, one way or another, by the litigation process, which is costly, stressful, time consuming and often career suicide.
There has to be another way, particularly now we have high tribunal fees of up to £1,200 (since July 2013), and soon we will have mandatory early conciliation. While free Acas conciliation is good in principle, how does an employee settle a case without knowing if it has legs and how much it is worth? Acas will not advise on the merits of a claim.
There is no easy fix but we hope that YESS – Your Employment Settlement Service will help employees to keep their job AND employers to improve their equality record.
What does YESS do? Early intervention and negotiation
We advise employees how to settle any dispute, or potential dispute, at the earliest opportunity. We hope to help employees achieve their objectives, whether this is to stay in their job, perhaps on flexible hours, or negotiate an exit package if it is too late to save their job. This will include:
- Reading relevant documents
- Meeting with the employee
- Providing written legal advice
- Negotiating with the employer
- Advising on settlement agreements
We offer fixed fees once we have done an initial assessment of the situation.
- We aim to achieve early resolution so avoid the time, stress, costs of litigation
- We never litigate, so can have a more constructive dialogue with the employer
- We offer affordable and fixed fees
- We are a charity; any surplus will go to provide pro bono advice
YESS lawyers are highly experienced, seasoned litigators who have had enough of litigation. They include current and ex-employment judges who understand that many claimants have an unrealistic expectation of what the tribunal can do for them and who have seen the impact of tribunal proceedings on the parties.