Meet the lawyer transforming the conversation in employment law

Susan Hornsby-Geluk discusses her passion for employment law and reveals her goals as editor for its key publication

Meet the lawyer transforming the conversation in employment law

Employment law is one of the most interesting areas for a lawyer to practice in - and as soon as she started, Dundas Street managing partner Susan Hornsby-Geluk was “immediately hooked.”

Hornsby-Geluk has been practicing employment law for over 25 years, and has been the general editor of the Employment Law Bulletin (ELB) at LexisNexis for the last six years. She started as a summer clerk in an employment law team, and the variety and complexity of the practice area meant that she has never looked back.

“Friends and whanau often ask me for advice in other areas of law, such as family, criminal or property matters, and I have to tell them I have no clue,” Hornsby-Geluk told NZ Lawyer.  “I am truly a one trick pony”.

“I love that employment law combines complex legal issues with strategy and understanding people’s motivations and interests, and it’s also a very practical area of law, with a significant amount of active engagement in meetings, mediations and litigation.”

In her role as the ELB general editor, Hornsby-Geluk has focused on “reframing” the publication to focus on a variety of themes, and to encourage authors to push boundaries when thinking about legal issues. One of her favourite recent pieces was a contribution from Chief Judge Christina Inglis, who wrote an article titled “Spokes in the wheels of justice – employment law and practice: how can we contribute to a smoother ride”, published in December 2022.

Hornsby-Geluk notes that this piece challenged lawyers on the accessibility of employment law for everyone, and asked them to consider what they could do differently.

“It questions who our employment institutions are designed to serve, given that many employees could never afford to pay lawyers to represent them in these fora,” she explains.

“It suggests that a less legalistic approach and a renewed focus on restorative practices would better serve users. I think we need to reflect on this, because even those of us who act predominantly for employers should aspire to be part of a system that delivers justice to all who need it.”

For Hornsby-Geluk, working on the ELB has pushed her to more deeply consider where employment law is heading. It is a rapidly moving field, and there has been a significant movement towards recognising a broader range of workers as employees, and opening opportunities for them to have more of the protections of an employment relationship.

She highlights that embracing tikanga and te ao Māori values will be a significant area of development and importance going forward, as well as how employers work with people of different cultures and backgrounds.

But while employment law has made significant strides, Hornsby-Geluk notes that it is still a “very traditional bar.” As a non-binary person, she has personally experienced the effect of lawyers being expected to “look and act a particular way” - and though the sector is taking positive strides, there is still some way to go.

“I am absolutely certain that recruitment decisions, which are often made by older lawyers, are affected by these traditional stereotypes,” Hornsby-Geluk says.

“This inhibits the freedom of younger lawyers, in particular, to express themselves as they may want to.”

“That said, I think we have become a lot better at recognising the need for flexibility in workplaces, which has greatly assisted working parents, and also valuing the perspective of different cultures and world views.”

Indeed, Hornsby-Geluk has seen this improvement firsthand. The Employment Court now refers to her as “Mx”  and she says that the employment institutions in general have been “fantastic” in taking a more progressive approach to gender diversity.

“Up until the last five years or so, most people had no understanding of what a “non-binary” person was,” she explains.

“I did not understand it fully myself, I just knew that I did not regard myself as being one gender or the other – having a name for it and social recognition has really helped.”

Looking towards the future, there’s no doubt that employment lawyers will continue to have a huge variety of complex issues to deal with. However, the legal industry is stepping up to the plate, and the ELB enjoys a broad variety of contributions from pre-eminent voices in the sector.

“I have been both surprised and grateful at how willing our legal fraternity has been to write quality pieces for the ELB,” Hornsby-Geluk says. “This has enabled us to produce a really compelling and well researched product.”

Download the latest issue of the Employment Law Bulletin (released in May 2023) for FREE by submitting the form HERE.

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