In a little over 6 weeks time a referendum will be held to determine whether or not the UK should remain a member of the European Union.  Much debate is geared towards the potential impact on the economy and our trade partnerships, however, let’s take a minute to consider what would happen from an employment law perspective.

For the most part the influence of European Directives has been a welcome addition to UK employment laws.  European laws that have been incorporated via Acts of Parliament are classed as “primary legislation” and therefore freestanding UK laws.  They would remain in place in the event of a “Brexit” unless the Government specifically decided to abolish them.  The Working Time Directive however is of particular concern. This has been incorporated into the UK under “secondary legislation” meaning Government ministers have been granted the power to do so by the European Communities Act 1972.  Removing this framework would have more far reaching consequences but the likelihood is the Government would maintain the status quo and seek to address the particular concerns of each law individually over time.

How UK employment tribunals and courts continue to rule on matters will also be hotly debated should we leave the EU.  Currently rulings from EU employment cases are considered in the UK but what impact these may have on future rulings remains to be seen.  Would it still be possible even to rely on legislation derived from European laws if we are no longer a member?

The biggest impact of leaving the EU is likely to be the free movement of workers.  This basic principle has provided a larger selection pool for the recruitment process of UK businesses as well as providing more opportunities overseas for UK workers.  Whilst an “Out” vote would not see border controls and restrictions set up overnight, employers would need to consider what, if any contract amendments and Visa implications may be required.

So what can UK employers do to prepare for a potential “Brexit”?  It would make sense for employers to perform preliminary assessments on their business to identify any workers that could be affected.  Additionally, if your business operates in other EU countries you may wish to give thought to the financial or logistical challenges that could arise.  The consequences of leaving the EU will not be significant in the short term but it is worth giving thought to the “what if’s”.

Whilst there are many uncertainties surrounding the EU referendum, one thing is clear.  There will be no “big bang” plunging UK businesses into chaos.  If the UK does decide to leave the first step will be to notify the European Council following which there will be a 2 year process to negotiate the mechanics.  Once that has been decided the transition is likely to take some years with gradual changes.

Backhouse Solicitors will be closely following the result of the referendum and will be on hand to advise on any employment law implications.  In the meantime if you have any specific concerns you would like to discuss please contact a member of our employment law team.


The Backhouse Solicitors Team

Tel:         01245 893400