Meet the expert who sees the growing importance of employment law

For Charlotte Geesin, head of employment law and business immigration at Howarths, employment law is more than work, it’s a reflection of society, writes Ismail Mulla.

“I always knew from school age that I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Charlotte Geesin.
“I always knew from school age that I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Charlotte Geesin.

Employment law may be seen as a boring, stuffy topic that is cluttered with red tape and regulation by some, however, for Charlotte Geesin it is anything but.

The head of employment law and business immigration at Cleckheaton-based Howarths has a genuine passion for it.

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The excitement in her voice bubbles up as she speaks about labour issues that are currently affecting businesses as well as those that might affect them in the future but perhaps might not be on their radar.

"I was right in at the deep end doing everything," says Charlotte Geesin about her training contract.

“I always knew from school age that I wanted to be a lawyer,” she says. “It sounded fancy and I liked Ally McBeal. That was about as in-depth as the desire really went.”

However, when the time came to take her career seriously, Ms Geesin was able to lean on her strength in essay-based subjects.

She said: “I liked writing, I liked reading. I went through college and at 18 I applied to do a law degree at the University of Birmingham and got accepted.”

Halfway through, she switched to the University of Wolverhampton, completing her degree in 2007 before doing the Legal Practice Course at the same university. Ms Geesin then stayed on for another year to do a Masters.

While the majority of other lawyers would have ended up doing their training contracts at a traditional law firm, Ms Geesin ended up joining the in-house legal team at Rentokil Initial in 2009.

She said: “Usually you’ll go into a firm of solicitors as opposed to a company and you will spend four lots of six months, called seats, working in departments, seeing how everything runs.

“I didn’t do seats during my training contract. I was right in at the deep end doing everything.

“There was a lot of employment law, commercial law, contracts, intellectual property – the whole lot really.

“It set me up in a really good stead for working with businesses because I genuinely had a commercial awareness. I understood the interplay between the law and business, which is really important.”

The irony is that when Ms Geesin was at university she “really hated” employment law. She added: “I just thought it was really boring. Then when I did my training contract and obviously saw it in practice, I absolutely loved it.”

This led to Ms Geesin, who is originally from Stourbridge, making the move up to Cleckheaton-based employment law firm Howarths.

When she got off the train at Brighouse station for her interview a decade ago, it came as a bit of a shock to the system and Ms Geesin felt like she was on the set of Emmerdale.

However, nearly a decade on, she is still at Howarths and her enthusiasm for employment law is stronger than it’s ever been.

In fact, during the long drawn-out discussions around whether Britain would actually leave the European Union and if so how, Ms Geesin noticed a trend.

She realised that the big city firms were bringing immigration specialisms into the employment teams because of Brexit.

Ms Geesin said: “They were envisaging Britain leaving and there being changes to the immigration system that would impact employers and employees as well.

“They were starting to get their employment teams dual qualified to provide a wider service.”

The employment lawyer spoke to Gavin Howarth, managing director at Howarths, about going to study immigration law.

“He thought that was a really good idea and ended up funding me through it,” she says. “In 2019, I got a CILEx level 6 qualification in immigration law as well. I’m dual qualified in immigration and employment law now.”

She is working with the likes of Sheffield-based Zoo Digital, which provides subtitles for Hollywood film studios, helping them access the best talent from across the world as immigration rules are tightened up.

“What I’m helping them to do is obtain a Sponsor Licence, which is the licence that you need in order to be able to employ skilled workers from outside the UK,” Ms Geesin said.

The impact of Brexit on businesses’ recruitment plans is yet to be known as Covid has “distorted everything”.

Ms Geesin added: “Basically, it has severed access to global markets particularly in relation to unskilled work. It’s very difficult now to bring people in.

“Although employers are kind of aware of it, it’s not been their focus because they have had Covid to attend to.” It’s not until furlough is wound down and businesses are able to take stock as to their post-pandemic labour requirements that the impact of shortages will be known.

Long Covid is another issue that Ms Geesin sees looming on the horizon from an employment law perspective.

In addition to advising on employment law, she has even taken to writing reports on issues she feels are likely to impact workers and businesses.

One of those papers she has written is about long Covid and how the rise in number of these cases could lead to added legal obligations for businesses.

Ms Geesin also sees a raft of other changes coming into businesses off the back of the focus on mental health.

“We’re going to see a new trend towards what employers can do to support families and flexible working,” Ms Geesin said.

For Ms Geesin, employment law isn’t just a matter of regulation for businesses but a reflection of society changing. “Employment law permeates into all aspects of society,” she says.

“One of the things I love so much about employment law is that it’s a reflection, or should be a reflection, of what is going on in wider society.”

Looking ahead, Ms Geesin would love to share her knowledge and passion for employment law with future generations.

She said: “I would love to be able to complement my job with lecturing. To be able to go back to where it started at university and educate the legal minds of the future.

“I know it sounds a bit grand but I’d love to do that.”

Given the excitement in her voice when talking employment law and depth of knowledge, you could easily see her holding court in a lecture theatre.

Curriculum vitae

Title: Head of employment law and business immigration

Date of birth: April 1985

Lives: Sheffield

Favourite holiday destination: Vietnam

Last book read: Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle

Favourite film: The Talented Mr Ripley

Favourite song: REM, Losing my Religion

Car driven: Nissan Qashqai

Most proud of: My past, and how I have overcome difficulties to be where I am today in both my professional and family

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James Mitchinson