Brexit – the impact on UK Employment Law


On the road to Brexit

Will Brexit affect UK employment law?

The Brexit or Remain debate is getting livelier as the EU referendum draws nearer. But how will a Brexit affect us? Well, in the absence of a crystal ball and putting aside the arguments of the Brexit and Remain campaigners, I’d like to share my own thoughts.

In my view, I don’t believe UK employment law will be greatly impacted by a Brexit (although some ‘remain’ supporters are suggesting otherwise – less so the Brexit campaigners).

A huge amount of our UK employment legislation incorporates EU rights and principles that would remain unaffected by Brexit unless, and until, those laws were repealed and, in reality, I don’t believe any UK government is likely to remove protections at work against, for example, discrimination, or scrap equal pay when our own law pre-dates joining the EU.

UK’s own employment rights

The fact is that the UK has introduced EU law into our own primary and secondary legislation for good reason, sometimes, going further than the EU required. The right to shared parental leave and the extended right to request flexible working was supported by the Coalition Government and the Opposition – and our maternity leave already exceeds the minimum required under EU law, so this is unlikely to change.

Although a Brexit would allow the UK to amend these laws without fear of EU legal proceedings, it’s unlikely that the government would take what many would see as a retrograde step to reduce workers’ rights and protections that have been introduced over many years. In any case, if we leave the EU the deal may be to maintain all existing EU employment law in return for favourable trading arrangements.

One big unknown is that even where legislation remains unamended following Brexit, it may be applied differently by our courts and it would be interesting to see how far EU legislation may be binding on existing cases in the future.

Employment red tape

Unfortunately, much of the red tape related to employing people is home grown and not down to the EU alone – so it’s unlikely a Brexit would see an end (or reduction) in bureaucracy. We can’t blame Brussels for everything!

And while we’re talking about it … can you tell your staff how to vote in the EU referendum?

There’s no reason why, as senior management, you can’t tell your employees how you view the referendum, after all, you do have an overriding duty to act in the best interests of your business. So if you believe that either remaining in or leaving the EU is in the best interests of your company, you are entitled to express that view, and to encourage staff to vote in agreement.

You should be aware, however, if you hold other positions either in the public sector, member organisations or charities then you may be constitutionally bound to remain neutral. So do check this out.

In any case, you mustn’t be seen to harass your employees or interfere with their right to vote as they wish. You should also remember that if the business has formally decided to support a particular view, or to remain neutral, if you publicly speak out in defiance of that decision, you could face disciplinary action yourself.

Please contact us with your employment law questions and how the EU vote may affect your business.