Does employment law inhibit free speech?

A recent article in The Times took a pot-shot at the HR Industry and employment litigation, criticising its cost and the negativity it engenders in the workplace.

Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs cites the British Chamber of Commerce as having calculated that the average cost of defending an Employment Tribunal case is about £8,500.00 per case.

On the basis of having 80,000 such applications each year he therefore calculates that businesses are paying approximately £700 million a year in legal fees alone in defending employment claims. Noting that a Supreme Court has ruled Tribunal fees to be illegal he said “we can expect this number to rise”. The timing is probably not accidental; this sort of article was common before fees were introduced in 2013.

He seems to hark for allegedly simpler times when people could speak their minds, men were men and the job got done. He states “it does mean that if your key staff are inhibited in speaking out and honestly expressing themselves for fear of being misinterpreted or causing offence then you have a major problem.”

That may well be true but as in all matters it is a question of fact and degree.

We live in a complex society, which is thankfully becoming ever more diverse. We are all enriched by that. I do not understand why ensuring that there is respect in the workplace for all employees inhibits free speech. To blame employment laws for inhibiting free speech and, ultimately, productivity seems to me to be the wrong target. Of course, it is always easy to shoot a sitting duck.