I hardly dare write the word Brexit, but it needs to be done. There are many ways in which this event is going to impact the workplace and I felt that, rather than stick our heads in the proverbial sand, I could offer some advice about what preparations employers should be thinking about now.
Leaving the EU will involve huge change within the UK, not least because it opens the possibility of changing some of our legislation, which has been implemented as a result of EU legislation – such as the Working Time Regulations which the Tories have certainly indicated their desire to reform.
In case you didn’t know …
You would have to have been living on the moon not to know that the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on Friday 29 March 2019 (at 11pm, according to the Prime Minister). If the transition period proposed by the EU is adopted, then the UK will leave the transitional status on 31 December 2020. (Just in case you need the next bit of info for a pub quiz in the future!) The final result of the EU referendum was announced on Friday 24 June 2016 at 7.20am by the Electoral Commission Chair Jenny Watson at Manchester Town Hall.
Who is in the EU?
(another pub quiz Q&A). Can you name all 28 countries in the EEA?
They are (in alphabetical order): Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.
Freedom of movement:
All citizens, and their dependants, in the European Economic Area (EEA) have been able to enjoy freedom of movement in terms of work, study and travel under the Free Movement Directive. However, although the EU and UK have agreed this will continue during the transition phase, this will end on 31 December 2019. So, there are three groups of people this change will affect in particular:
- British nationals currently living in Europe;
- European nationals currently living in the UK; and
- Individuals who come to live in either the UK or Europe after the UK leaves the EU.
The UK Government has reached an agreement with the EU regarding citizens’ rights. As things currently stand, this agreement applies to the 27 countries. It doesn’t extend to Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland although it is expected that a deal will be reached that will be similar to the other arrangements.
The proposal is:
It is expected that UK nationals living in the EU will be able to attain a right, equivalent to settled status in the country in which they reside.
There will be an implementation period beginning on 29 March 2019 ending after the transition period which ends on 31 December 2020. The application process can be done online. The price per application will be £65 for adults and £32.50 for children. There is further information here:
Another source of help is UK Visas and Immigration:
The exception to this would be Irish nationals who, whilst they are part of the EU, are already covered by other legislation which would deem them to be settled in the UK. If in doubt, individuals should obviously check.
The Government white paper known as the Chequers Deal also gave some indication of intent with regards post-Brexit movement of people – for example, if an individual comes for business or for intra-company transfers. It also mentioned the ability of individuals to come to the UK to study with reciprocal arrangements for British nationals who want to study in Europe. However, further guidance is still awaited on this.
How can employers help?
Employees - EU nationals
The first steps would be for employers to look at their workforce and know who is an EU national. This will ensure they can communicate clearly and effectively with those individuals to ensure they are aware of what’s going to happen.
You can make sure that any of your employees who are from the EU and who wish to stay here after March 2019 are aware of the need to register and apply for settled or pre-settled status. You can reassure them that you will offer them support and, if necessary, time off to sort out their immigration status.
It would be sensible for employers to be aware of the number of EU nationals within their company and their job roles, contract details and length of residence in the UK so that you can identify what skills you will need to replace if they decide not to remain in the UK. Equally, for some employers who use a large number of seasonal workers from the EU, start to plan ahead as to how you might be able to obtain staff in the future, whether you might need to obtain a licence and how/where you can apply if required.
Communicating with your employees is absolutely vital – ensure that everyone in the business is aware of the value you place on European migration and about what is being done within the business to ensure that everyone is aware of what will need to happen in the run-up to the Brexit transition period. This can help to reduce stress for employees and demonstrates strong employee engagement.
Keep up to date with all the negotiations particularly those that affect your workforce and ensure they are all kept up to date.
As an employer, if you’re willing to assist with support, or with financial help towards, for example, the cost of applications or paying for legal help and/or giving time off to staff to make arrangements for their personal affairs, then ensure you communicate that to everyone
Examples of ways employers are providing their employees with information include:
- Online Frequently Asked Questions documents;
- Town hall-type meetings that provide employees with an explanation of the law and an opportunity to ask any questions;
- Some are offering “bring your passport to work” days in order to get their records up to date (see below); and
- One-to-one consultations and help with filing applications to remove the risk of a mistake or delay.
Finally, I hope that all of you are already aware of the importance of right to work in the UK checks and the importance of keeping relevant documents (such as Passports) for all your staff. This will continue past Brexit where you will need the new right to remain documents for your employees.
Applications for settled and pre-settled status don’t open until March 2019 but that isn’t far away so ensure that your staff know about what they need to do and keep your lines of communication open.
How ready do you feel? This subject is very emotive but I suggest that you don’t stick your head in the sand but instead start preparing and working with your staff which will be reassuring and offer them a clear sense of support from their employer.
If you want any assistance or if you have further queries, please contact me at [email protected]
Fri 24 June 2016 EU referendum announced
Fri 29 March 2019,11pm UK scheduled to leave the EU
Thurs 31 Dec 2020 UK will leave the transitional status (if adopted)
Fri 29 Mar 2019 - Thurs 31 Dec 2020 Implementation period begins–ends after transition period