The UK’s historic ‘Brexit’ vote on whether we should remain in or leave the EU is now one week away.
With EU law being a source of many of the basic employment rights in the UK, it has been argued that ‘Brexit’ would affect employment law in the UK.
First, any changes would be very gradual. If ‘leave’ is the winning outcome, the UK will be given two years to negotiate new trade deals before officially leaving the EU. This means that major changes to employment law in the short term in the event of a ‘Brexit’ are extremely small.
It is highly likely the ‘break-up’ will last longer than two years due to the complexity of the process.
Slow and Small Changes
It is likely that small changes will happen, but these will happen slowly (not immediately after we leave the EU) and sporadically. This will depend on the UK’s relationship with the EU, and whether EU employment law stays in place as part of the new deal.
Employment laws which originate from the EU have become the ‘norm’ in the workplace and extreme changes would likely face a lot of protest, and so a sudden retraction will almost certainly not happen. In fact, some UK employment laws exceed the minimum requirements set by the EU, such as family leave rights and the national living wage.
Many pan-European employers have expressed concerns about changes to the free movement of people granted by the EU. It is the current right of EU citizens to live and work in EU member states, making employing across Europe and expanding into Europe easy for growing businesses.
Leaving the EU would mean citizens of member states would no longer have an automatic right to live and work in the UK, and UK employees in Europe would not have the right to live and work in their chosen member state.
The expectation in the event of ‘Brexit’ is for the new relationship to involve an element of free movement of people in return for free movement of goods for the UK.
Ongoing participation in the European Economic Area will also likely require the UK to keep many employment laws required by the EU.
It is very difficult to forecast what exactly will happen following a possible ‘Brexit’, but the truth is that any changes in employment law will be slow, long term, and will drip through as governments change in the years following a Brexit.
‘Tinkering’ of laws such as introducing a cap on compensation for discrimination claims would be likely on the horizon after the new deal is agreed.
Despite the uncertain future following the possible ‘Brexit’, changes to UK employment law will not be startling.