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The Employment implications of leaving the European Union

On the day after the vote there appeared to be a mild but significant panic, with employers unsure as to whether they will still be able to employ EU nationals working in the UK and EU nationals unsure whether or not they were to be deported. I know of a sad and tearful Slovak who has lived in the UK for nine years, was in a relationship with a UK citizen but, on attending work, was hugged by co-workers sorry that she would be leaving.

The easy advice is that nothing has changed. Keep paying your European employees and keep working in the UK if you are entitled to do so.

Even when Article 50 is eventually triggered, the optimistic estimate is that it will take at least two years for the UK to extricate itself from the myriad of rules and regulations that currently exist. Employment Law is heavily reliant upon EU directives and has really grown and developed as its own specialisation since the late 1960s and early 1970s when the UK joined the European Community. Before that, Employment Law was generally considered as a system of contractual arrangements, often based on a Master/Servant relationship. How times have changed.

Employment law has developed along European lines of equal rights, equal pay, non-discrimination and fairness. There exists a fairly sophisticated Tribunal system, a state supported advisory body (ACAS) and laws that have generally been commended by all but the most Victorian of Employers. There is no suggestion that the last 50 years of employment legislation is going to be uprooted or that a brand new employment regime is to be introduced.

What has been said by the government, is that a date ought to be set to prevent new economic migrants arriving from the EU. As free movement is one of the fundamental rights within the Union, one cannot see how such a date can be set before Article 50 is triggered and before negotiations have been instigated. It has been suggested by some of the EU leaders that if the UK want to benefit from trading with the EU, then the right to free movement must continue. This could require some tricky negotiations; both sides may be forced to concede something, perhaps regulated migration or quota limits.

What is less clear is how the much older freedom of economic migration between the UK and the Republic of Ireland is going to work, bearing in mind that anyone born in the UK with an Irish parent or grandparent (from either side of the North/South divide) can claim Irish citizenship. When the Republic became a Republic, it was understood that there would be no change in the relationship insofar as work was considered between the two nations, with completely free movement.

What could change are those areas of law where the government has voiced concerns over matters with which it did not entirely agree like the Working Time Regulations and TUPE transfers. One would expect that these laws could be overhauled once the UK goes solo.

In comparison, the UK already provide more than the necessary minimum requirements on parental leave and family friendly policies. In any event it is unlikely that the laws that protect us from discrimination will be tampered with, especially if, as has been suggested, that the UK will consider its own Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, which one assumes will require fairness and equality to be a founding tenet.

Which leaves practitioners none the wiser and looking forward to a new set of rules and procedures to consider once the Brexit begins.

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