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Watching brief: Brexit and Employment Law

Watching brief: Brexit and Employment Law

Tuesday 4th October 2016

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Employment Bulletin -  Issue 306

At the Tory Party Conference Theresa May said the UK will begin the formal Brexit negotiation process by the end of March 2017. The timing on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty means the UK looks set to leave the EU by summer 2019. But, in the 13 weeks that have passed since the Brexit vote are we any more enlightened as to the potential impact of Brexit from an employment law perspective? And what are employers saying about the practical implications of Brexit in the workplace?

Steady As She Goes?

The status quo is broadly expected to continue during the negotiation period with the next 12-24 months appearing to be relatively quiet in terms of planned employment legislation. We are unlikely to see Brexit having an early impact on employment law.

  • Both the Leave and Remain campaigns focused heavily on workers’ rights. It is highly unlikely that the government will target workers’ rights whilst negotiations are ongoing, as any such attempts could potentially jeopardise those negotiations. The UK will be expected to demonstrate that it has minimum employment protections in place to remain a viable trading partner for the EU.
  • Perhaps with that in mind, Theresa May has made a point in saying that existing workers’ legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law. 
  • Most employers have maintained a message as steady as she goes. Confidence has returned after the immediate post leave shock. There is yet to be a Brexit effect on the jobs market with the latest figures showing a slight fall in unemployment levels.
  • That said, Immigration rules will be different and the government will have to directly address a number of questions around the immigration status of EU nationals currently working in the UK and the requirements which will be placed on those who enter the UK to work in the future. Theresa May has promised some control over the number of people coming to the UK. The basis of that control has yet to be determined. Campaigners to leave championed a points based system but indications are that the government will look at other options; theoretically a work permit or visa system, restrictions on entry to those with job offers, a quota system or emergency brake.  

Challenges Faced by Employers Post Vote

  • Challenges faced by employers have tended to be specific to businesses who place a particular reliance on recruiting from the EU. Businesses are reporting concerns from potential EU national recruits who are unwilling to commit to roles in the UK given the uncertainty as to their status and ability to remain long term.
  • Also, we have received reports of employee unrest from businesses who rely heavily on EU colleagues, particular unskilled workers, arising from misinformation relating to their current immigration status. Employers faced with this would be advised to issue its own information on immigration status and put measures in place to support EU colleagues who, based on an informed decision, want to proceed with a citizenship application rather than leave this to be dealt with by an outside agency.
  • Reported cases of post Brexit discrimination taking place within the workplace have been rare though some employers have faced the fall out arising from employees facing abuse outside of work or (in some cases) travelling to and from work.
  • Some businesses have been affected by projects being put on hold (for example in the commercial property market) whilst the impact of Brexit is assessed meaning that short term steps are being taken to keep control of costs (a moratorium on pay rises for example).
Need advice or wish to talk to us?
If you would like to discuss any issues you may have about employment law and Brexit please do not hesitate to contact:
Partner, Employment & Pensions team
Tel: 0151 600 3162