Employers should prepare despite Brexit uncertainty

Breda Cullen of HR Team.
Breda Cullen of HR Team.

For employers, the only thing certain about the effects of Brexit is the uncertainty it has created.

Brexit inspired uncertainty abounds over issues such as the status of EU workers in the UK, the potential for skills shortages and possible changes to employment laws derived from Europe.

Employers have been left pondering the significance of the impact on staffing their organisations and future planning as a result of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

Workforces in industries which include a high percentage of EU citizens - such as retail, leisure and hospitality - are particularly concerned at the implications of the poll.

It does seem likely that EU citizens currently working in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales will retain their right to remain by way of a potential worker registration scheme. However, it remains unclear how such a scheme would be implemented or whether the rights would be conferred on workers who enter the UK in future.

News reports are stating it could be two years before the process is fully rolled out and new rules come into play as the existing treaties allow for this. But employers would be well advised not to sit on their hands if they want to stay ahead of the game.

Whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit on the status of workers, the current uncertainty suggests it would be prudent of employers to begin assessing the potential impact on their workforces now.

Carrying out an employment audit of current staffing in order to facilitate any planning for the new systems would help employers to diminish potential risks. These risks may include employees being required to hold work permits should there be a repeal of the current rules governing EU immigration.

In Northern Ireland, employers will also have concerns over employees who cross the border each day to get to their places of work. Although there has been much talk about the continuation of the Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - nothing seems to be a given following Brexit. The uncertainty over whether or not a hard border will be introduced – meaning possible daily queues at passport control – is also causing concern among employers and their employees.

It is likely that any post-Brexit UK government would focus on the employment rules that had proved most unpopular with employers. These include the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 which provide basic protections for agency workers - most notably the right to the same basic conditions as the hirer’s direct recruits after 12 weeks. This legislation would be at particular risk of the axe in its current form given its unpopularity among UK employers who believe it hampers their ability to fill short term vacancies.

Some recent decisions by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have proved unpopular with business owners and could well be subject to change under a post-Brexit regime. These include moves which have resulted in higher staffing costs for employers such as upholding an employee’s right for holiday pay to accrue during sick leave periods and allowing for the calculation of holiday pay using all aspects of remuneration – including overtime payments and commission - and not simply basic pay.

At the moment, however, there is no change to employment legislation and any future changes will not happen immediately.