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The implications that Brexit could have on employment law have set off a frenzied discussion in HCM communities, mainly along the lines of immigration and civil rights. The panic is due in large part to the fact that many of the U.K.’s domestic employment policies are deeply rooted in EU legislation. Even the laws that protect employees from discrimination and guarantee lunch breaks could be put under review should the U.K. decide to divorce itself from the EU entirely. Here are just a few of the policies in question:

  • Family leave rights
  • Working time regulations
  • Protection for atypical workers
  • Health and safety in the workplace

And, most strikingly, the Equality Act of 2010 is on the list. This legislation protects EU workers from discrimination on the grounds of:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity

While it is unlikely that the U.K. would make major departures from these fundamental labor rights, individual pieces of policy may be retooled in the years following Brexit — a scary notion in the present political landscape. To make matters worse, these decisions could be made in the height of a recession, if the currency does not stabilize.

To compound the issue even further, there are currently 3 million EEA nationals working in the U.K. The loss of this workforce would widen the skills gap in vital industries such as healthcare, construction, engineering, and IT. EU migrants provide British businesses with vital skills which are simply in short supply. Most harrowing is that fact that 11% of all National Health Service staff are not British.

So between an unlikely, but potential deconstruction of labor rights, repatriation of migrant workers, and the devaluation of the pound, which could lead to domestic inflation, rising interest rates, lower incomes, layoffs, and a slew of other repercussions, it does seem like there’s a lot to panic over, right? Perhaps not. It all depends on how the U.K. defines it’s economic relationship with the EU after its separation.

Post Brexit, the U.K. would have to renegotiate its trade agreements, an issue that Hilary O’Connor, Partner at King & Wood LLP and employment law adviser, commented on in March. O’Connor pointed out that if U.K. policy-makers choose to join the EEA like Norwary or become part of EFTA like Switzerland, then they’d still have to follow the EU’s main employment policies, leaving little room to make changes. Further, O’Connor points out that banks that want to continue operating in Europe would be held to controversial EU employment policies such as banker’s pay and bonus clawbacks — “however unappealing they may be,” O’Connor added.

While there are innumerable uncertainties ahead for the United Kingdom, it’s important that HR leaders communicate effectively with their employees, and discourage speculation from becoming a major distraction in the workplace.

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