The pandemic has somewhat shielded us from living with Brexit “in real life.” We haven’t been able to travel, we haven’t been able to participate in small talk with colleagues, and as People Professionals, we have focused solely on getting through it over the last 12 months. However, as we start to see the (vaccine) light at the end of the (lockdown) tunnel, we now have the space to dedicate time and attention to Brexit and explore what it means for our businesses.
Brexit employment law implications: what does Brexit mean for UK laws?
Our employment law is built on numerous acts and directives from Parliament. Many UK laws, such as working time directive and data protection, have historically been amended to be in line with EU labour laws, which superseded our employment laws prior to Brexit. Subsequently, some laws would probably not be true had our highest court not been the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Concern surrounded Brexit and employment when we entered the transition period. However, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement answer gave a reassuring answer: The UK no longer has to mirror the legislation of the EU, however, it will not be amending or removing any legislation or directive so significantly that it would severely disadvantage workers.
For People Professionals in businesses, we will not see any short-term changes to our laws. However, when thinking long term, we may see amendments and changes to existing EU compliant legislation, and importantly, ECJ rulings may be overturned, creating new case law. It’s important to note that you can expect one immediate change: tribunals will only be taken as high as the Supreme Court, and the decision and outcome will stop there. In other words, the ECJ will no longer be the highest court.
How are your employees feeling during this time?
Leaving the EU is going to mean different things to different people. There will be practical consequences such as how dual citizenship or single UK citizenship will affect travel options as well as the difference in opinion around the build-up to and reasoning behind Brexit. Regardless of how employees feel personally, you should consider these steps to help employees through this.
- Check-in on the employees who have applied for non-settled status: Non-settled status will allow certain residents to stay in the country. Even though the responsibility of applying lies with the employee, this could be an unsettling, nerve-wracking, and sad experience. Checking in on these employees would show a level of recognition and care they may be looking for during this period.
- Make sure your employees understand the various changes: No one can rely that everyone is up to date with the changes Brexit has caused, and it will sit with the People team to inform and educate the organisation, with special attention given to management who will need to be leaned on to guide employees through this time.
- Get leadership involved: Global awareness for leadership will be important to ensure stakeholders both locally and abroad are aware of how changes to policies and processes will affect their teams.
- Plan for a new hiring process: Hiring is going to start looking a little different; getting ahead of how this is going to influence your succession planning is going to be key. You’ll want to find the best way to hire the right talent for your business, including those you might hire abroad. This will indicate to your employees that you are proactively looking to hire and retain where it’s possible to do so.
What changes are going to be made when we travel for work again?
If your employees are conducting business travel throughout Europe, the free travel of EU membership will cease. It will become the business’s responsibility to assess what the employee needs to travel throughout Europe legally.
From a logistic and risk perspective, not all countries are going to be accessible at the same time, which means a return to travel will be staggered. Policies and processes need to be assessed and amended to allow for safe travel as we near the easing of restrictions.
British Nationals will now have restrictions on the length of their time in EU countries. For companies who would typically have employees in and out of countries regularly, this now needs to be taken into account.
People teams will now need to work with managers to understand a continued, balanced attitude towards international company travel. Before the pandemic, it was the norm for companies to fly their employees around the world, have people in different offices, visit clients, and attend offsites. The last year has shown a vast majority of companies that their employees can do the job from home (and arguably for some, be more productive). Striking a balance between productive international travel and remote work will be key to keeping employees engaged as they navigate the changes from Brexit and working in Europe.
How should political conversations be managed?
When it comes to political conversations in the workplace, the People team will have to keep neutral. Like any monumental shift in a country’s political landscape, there is more than one opinion, and in this case, both sides have the potential to be emotionally driven. It is okay to have an opinion, but it would be sensible to work with management to encourage the sensitive handling of these conversations and even become fluent in de-escalation techniques.
As the world starts to return to a recognised state and more Brexit consequences are exposed, the conversations will only increase. As a member of the People team, it is necessary to recognise people’s frustrations and help them move forward. It is only just the beginning of a very long journey!
What does the future look like?
The UK spent 47 years in the EU until the vote to leave in 2016, and so much has changed since then. We don’t necessarily know what the future looks like for the nation but what we do know is that in our businesses, there are lots we can do to ensure we are set up for success as best we can.
This time can be used to focus on your talent planning, refreshing your immigration processes, and upskilling your staff. And maybe Brexit could even be a great excuse to re-prioritise some of those things that might have been pushed down the to-do list in the last 12 months.
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