Law and legalities at work: HR practitioners as quasi-legal professionals

Kirk, E. (2021) Law and legalities at work: HR practitioners as quasi-legal professionals. Industrial Law Journal, 50(4), pp. 583-609. (doi: 10.1093/indlaw/dwab025)

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Building upon research that explores the managerialisation of law and the production of ‘symbolic’ and ‘cosmetic’ compliance, this article explores the way in which HR professionals understand and engage in the (re)production of legality at work. Drawing on interviews, observation and discourse analysis, it presents rich qualitative data on the legal consciousness of HR professionals to argue that the profession has become increasingly lawyer-like, or quasi-legal. Legal expertise confers legitimacy and authority upon a somewhat compromised professional identity, which clambers for status within corporate hierarchies. The mobilisation of law occurs in ways that reflect the familiar contradictions of HRM practitioners’ conflicted role as both ‘employee champions’ and ‘business partners’. Labour law is mobilised in ways that lend substance and authoritativeness to organisational policies and procedures, but also help employers to ‘sail close to the wind’ legally: law is harnessed to protect employers, keeping them out of court and legitimising a managerial paradigm of what is ‘right’, ‘fair’ and justifiable. The overall effect is primarily to strengthen the employer’s hand to act, whether by stifling disputes, conferring legitimacy upon organisationally defined versions of legality, or justifying core-periphery divides and the necessity for flexibility and organisational ‘agility’. The encoding of quasi-law can render labour law itself largely invisible to workers, making it difficult for them to have recourse to it when required.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Kirk, Dr Eleanor
Authors: Kirk, E.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Law
Journal Name:Industrial Law Journal
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN (Online):1464-3669
Published Online:22 October 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The Author
First Published:First published in Industrial Law Journal 50(4): 583-609
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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