Brexit: what it means for HR leaders and employers right now

How should HR leaders and employers do to prepare for Brexit?

Since the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, all that any employer has wanted to know is ‘what does this mean for my business and my workforce?’

Although Article 50 was triggered in March, Britain now has two years to negotiate its terms of departure and agree new trade deals with all EU member states – only then does Brexit occur. So, as an employer, what does Brexit mean right now for you and your HR department?

Below we tackle the key questions employers are asking.

  • Will there be any imminent changes in freedom of movement?

Not right now. The UK remains a member of the EU until Article 50 negotiations have concluded in March 2019. This means most citizens of countries in the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland have the right to live and work in the UK under European law.

However, there is strong pressure for the Prime Minister to announce a cut-off date for the end of free movement from the EU to the UK ahead of the 2019 deadline. But Brussels has recently declared this would be breaking EU law and that Britain must give any citizens who move to the UK during the next two years, the same rights to live and work in the country as those already here.

  • Will freedom of movement cease as soon as Brexit occurs?

No. Prime Minister, Teresa May has recently admitted there would have to be “a period of time” after Brexit when businesses and governments are adjusting systems and procedures based on what has been negotiated, so free movement could still be allowed during this time. Current speculation hints that this could be anywhere up to three years after Brexit.

  • What is the current state of play for employing EU nationals?

While Article 50 negotiations are ongoing, nationals from the 30 countries in the EEA can still work for any employer in any role according to current EU law and as an employer, you are under a duty not to discriminate against workers based on their nationality.

  • Will I still be able to employ EU nationals post-Brexit?

Brexit will spell the end to the current freedom of movement rights for EU nationals but the government will have to negotiate new trade deals with all EU member states and it is expected that such trade deals will be largely dependent on some form of agreement for allowing EU migrants to work in the UK.

Currently, EU nationals who have lawfully resided in the UK for at least five years automatically have permanent residence. After six years, EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK are eligible to apply for British citizenship. It is anticipated that the working rights of anyone that meets this criteria will be preserved.

The exact detail of what the new rules will look like for employing EU nationals will be published in a new Immigration Bill, but no date has been set for the publication of this.

What should HR leaders and employers do to prepare for Brexit?

  • Reassure EU workers that they have the support of their employer to avoid losing key staff;
  • Understand the ‘sponsorship and resident labor market’ tests, in case they become relevant for employing EU nationals in the future;
  • Keep up to date with Brexit negotiations;
  • Audit your workforce to identify which employees may be impacted by post-Brexit immigration regimes;
  • Be mindful that any such planning doesn’t run the risk of unlawful discrimination while Britain remains part of the EU.

To stay abreast of Brexit negotiations and what it means for business, bookmark these pages:
The Department for Exiting the European Union
Status of EU nationals in the UK: what you need to know
Government Brexit Newsfeed

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