The UK has long been seen as a stepping stone to Europe for many US-headquartered companies. This often makes sense, both from a commercial and an HR perspective. The UK and US share a language and have similar cultures and work ethics.
In addition, by EU standards the UK has employer-friendly labor laws that attract US companies. The UK also has a large talent pool that contains skilled workers from countries all over the world, not just the EU.
Understandably, many multinationals operating in or considering expanding to the UK are concerned that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on March 29 may make the region less attractive from an employer’s perspective. As the deadline looms Brexit negotiations continue, and it remains to be seen whether UK employment laws will change significantly.
This uncertainty has not only affected employers’ outlooks, it has stirred intense emotions in UK workers. This post explores some steps UK organizations can take to mitigate the short- and long-term effects of Brexit on their employees and on their own organizations.
Steps Employers Should Take Now
First and foremost, many UK-based employees are looking for reassurance. An employer can provide a measure of this by giving employees clear information about the business’ direction and the immediate impact of Brexit on employee roles and responsibilities. Leadership should provide updates as needed as Brexit negotiations unfold.
More generally, company leadership should remain visible, positive, calm and available to answer questions and receive suggestions. Employees often look to leadership for stability in times of uncertainty, and not just to board-level directors. Line managers and supervisors should model these behaviors as well.
The subject of Brexit and immigration is a sensitive one and should be managed carefully by employers. In particular, employers should have clear social media policies that seek to protect their organizations’ reputations. These policies should clarify that social media posts are visible to virtually anyone, and an employee’s posts may tarnish his or her employer by association. Posts on controversial topics such as immigration may be interpreted as offensive by some and should be avoided or addressed with extreme care, even on personal social media accounts.
If your organization does not have a social media policy in place, now is the time to develop and communicate one across your workforce.
The subject of immigration is often associated with the equally controversial and sensitive subject of discrimination. A 2017 UK Home Office report
showed a dramatic rise in police-reported hate crimes in 2016/2017. The report indicates this rise “is thought to reflect … a genuine rise in hate crime around the time of the EU referendum.” It’s conceivable that this climate could increase instances of discrimination, harassment and disciplinary issues in the workplace.
It’s more important than ever, then, for employers to maintain robust, clear and well-communicated employee handbooks and disciplinary and inclusion policies. In addition, leadership should reiterate that their working environment is one of inclusion and equality. Finally, companies should provide managers with additional support should any employee-relations issues arise.
Employers should also remind employees of any additional support available if they need to talk or obtain guidance on a range of issues, in and outside the workplace. These resources might include employee assistance programs (which can offer counselling services) or stress management courses. If a business employs workers on visas, they should provide timely updates on the status of any immigration applications in progress.
To ensure they’re well-placed to address immigration-law changes post-Brexit, UK employers should be fully compliant with existing immigration laws. In particular, their employees should possess valid right-to-work documents. This is important not only for UK-based employees, but for UK nationals working in other EU countries. Gathering this information will give an employer a snapshot of those members of its workforce who will be affected by any immigration-law changes so they can take quick action to remain compliant.
Long-Term Effects of Brexit on UK Employment and Immigration Laws
UK employment law likely won’t change much as a result of Brexit. Many EU directives that address employee benefits are supported by the UK electorate, such as the EU’s recent reinforcement of parental rights and increased flexible working entitlements. In addition, the UK labor market is less regulated by collective bargaining agreements and trade unions than most other EU states. As a result, there will likely be little political will to make significant labor-law changes.
Immigration legislation is a different matter. Tightening UK immigration controls was a key issue in the Brexit campaign, with many voters disheartened over the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in the UK. Post-Brexit, UK legislators will attempt to set limits on the number of EU nationals working and living in the UK, while retaining immigration freedoms for UK nationals seeking to live and work in EU member states.
Given that some industries are reliant on migrant workers, we can envision the UK adopting a points-based model. This would account for each migrant’s skillset, industry qualifications, education etc., while limiting the number of individuals granted permanent residency.
If the UK does adopt this model, then UK employers will need to adjust their recruitment and talent management strategies. They will need to focus more on attracting and retaining key local talent to ensure they remain competitive within the UK market.
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