On Friday, we all woke up to the news that the UK has voted to leave the European Union. Some people were happy, others far from it, others not sure what to think. But what does it now mean in practical terms for employers?
1. Keep it Calm
For now, the keyword is “emotion”. The campaigns themselves brought out strong emotions on both sides of the argument. The result is no different, with social media displaying greatly polarised views mixed amongst the pleas for peace and acceptance.
For those who are unhappy with the result, there is a grieving process to go through. Some of those who are happy with the result (or just sick of hearing about the EU) may be less than sympathetic. But sensitivity and acceptance are needed from everyone, however they voted.
As an employer, you may find this spilling into the workplace, with political arguments and fall-outs between people who are usually friends. It may be sensible to set the tone yourself, with a request for acceptance of others’ views, a reminder that there is still a job to be done and an “escape route” for people to retreat to if they’re feeling wound up by others’ attitudes. It would be best all round to be able to avoid a scenario of never-ending disciplinaries over heated arguments!
2. Be Proactive on Anti-Racism
Aside from the reaction to the result, it may be worth reiterating your Equal Opportunities policy – for those on both sides of the argument. The tone of the campaigns has made immigration – and therefore race – an emotive point. Even jokey, off-the-cuff remarks towards immigrants can of course breach the Equality Act and “I didn’t mean it offensively” is no defence. Sensitivities are running high currently, so a clear reminder of the rules and swift, consistent action when they are breached would be highly advisable.
You might just feel like the UN in your own workplace until the dust settles.
Sensitivity is needed on both sides and hopefully a reminder of that will be enough
to keep things calm in the meantime.
3. Reassure Employees from the EU on their Status
Aside from the emotive arguments, it really is business as usual for now. If you have employees from the EU, they can be reassured that there has been no suggestion of any impact on them. It seems highly likely that those in the country lawfully at this point (and probably right up to any EU exit) will be able to have some kind of protected status. There is no point in panicking and worrying about something that is very unlikely to happen. With so much uncertainty around, EU immigrants may be concerned about their jobs, so reassure them that their job is not affected by the result. (Remember that any attempt to remove, harass or disadvantage an EU immigrant from their job on the basis of their nationality would be a very clear breach of the Equality Act and likely to land you in tribunal).
4. Remember that nothing will happen immediately!
It will take up to two years to negotiate the terms of exit from the EU. We have no way of knowing at this point how those terms will end up looking. It may be that the UK retains EEA membership – which would retain free movement of EU residents. Or that might be a modified agreement, or something completely different. We just don’t know – but we do know it’ll take a good while to get confirmation. Until then, everything remains as it was.
5. The law is still the law!
There is much discussion about what will happen to the employment laws that have been derived from EU Directives. Again, we don’t know what will or won’t change and it’ll take a good while to get through. There has been an estimate that the legal changes required across the board are enough for ten years of Queen’s Speeches! So it seems extremely unlikely that there will be significant change to existing employment laws at least during that period. There are likely to be some tweaks and some technical changes but it seems unlikely that anything too dramatic will happen in the short-medium term.
6. Even after EU exit, there will still be immigration
Immigration to the UK cannot halt altogether. Employers will still be able to recruit from inside and outside the EU after exit – the details of “how” may well change, and there may be different processes introduced, but it won’t halt altogether. We will have to wait to see what the detail looks like.
It’s impossible at this point to predict exactly what will happen in terms of employment law, immigration processes or the economy, so until there is clarity it is pointless to try. So for now, it’s business as usual, with an emphasis on keeping the peace in the workplace and ensuring that those whose opinions differ respect the right of others to disagree courteously – and equally importantly respect the right of any EU immigrants to continue to live and work peacefully in the UK.
Clients are of course encouraged to call or email HR on Tap for advice from their Consultant on any of these issues if they have any concerns.