December 1, 2016

Post-Brexit: our tips to help you keep calm and carry on


We know from the headlines that our departure from the EU is likely to be a “hard Brexit” and that immigration control will remain top of the agenda.

Recent developments include tougher laws and fines for those employing illegal immigrants and new restrictions in relation to Tier 2 visas under the Points Based System (PBS). The Government’s hard-line stance on immigration will also affect sponsorship of overseas talent from outside Europe. In particular, new changes to the PBS will increase the cost burden for sponsors and non EEA (European Economic Area) applicants.

Here are what our clients are telling us are their key concerns:

"We rely on European staff to help fill the skills shortage in our industry. What will happen now?"

"We need skilled people from outside the EEA in our business – will we still be able to recruit overseas talent? Will we have to pay higher rates or offer incentives?"

"How can we reassure and help our European staff in this period of uncertainty?"

"Should we now focus on employing British citizens?"

Perhaps some of these resonate with you. Whatever your situation, our pragmatic, proactive advice will help you best prepare for the conscious uncoupling in the months and years ahead.

Understanding your workforce

The first step is to understand your workforce and clarify the numbers of EEA nationals and non EEA nationals in your workplace. Identify individuals who:

  • are permanent residents
  • may require further  permission to work in the future
  • may not be able to work in the UK in the future.

Armed with this information, you will be better placed to draw up business and recruitment strategies.

It is not mandatory under the law to review employees’ ID documentation, but it’s an important check to carry out before you employ an individual. You are also encouraged to carry out checks during their employment. Correct checks provide a defence against a civil penalty fine of up to £20,000 for each illegal immigrant caught working unlawfully. It may also help prevent a prosecution which carries a jail sentence of up to five years.

Individuals who are not permanently resident or British citizens  may require a permit to work in the UK in the future. Sector-based permit schemes could be attractive to the Government, particularly in some low-skilled areas dependent on European labour. Considerable manpower will be needed to issue visas which is likely to lead to delays and general confusion. It could also deter candidates from working in the UK. At the very least there will be much more admin as you will be required to regularly monitor the recruitment and length of stay of European staff.

Supporting your staff

Reported tensions in the workplace and a recent increase in hate crimes against Europeans continues to be a very real concern.  If you have staff who may be affected by the changes, regular communications will be key for you to help and reassure them in the lead up to Brexit which could take place as early as 2019.

As a matter of priority, you should make it clear that threatening or abusive behaviour towards colleagues is not tolerated. We also recommend that you equip managers with the ability to support staff affected by the Brexit vote and to deal with such incidents in the work place.

How you communicate with staff depends on the size of your business; whether it’s one-to-one or team meetings, dedicated emails or the intranet, or a combination of methods.

You may also want to provide access to legal and/ or financial advice, to help staff understand changes in the law, work permit fees, a possible NHS surcharge, and how their status is affected.

What about Europeans working in the UK now?

We are advising Europeans in the UK to consider applying now for documents confirming that they are permanent residents. An EEA national who has lived in the UK for a continuous period of five years as a worker, student or self-sufficient person may be eligible to apply for a residence card confirming their right to live here permanently. Individuals who have been permanently resident for a further 12 months, or who are permanently resident and married to a British national, may also wish to apply for British citizenship.

Discrimination in the workplace

Since the Brexit vote, some European workers have voiced fears that they will be discriminated against in favour of British recruits. And it may be that some employers will be more inclined to avoid the administrative burden and costs from employing EEA and non EEA nationals. However, it is unlawful to reject or hire people based on their nationality. It is up to you to ensure that discriminatory practices do not creep into your recruitment policies following changes in the law.

Future workforce

UK business must prepare for workforce change caused by Brexit and other factors including our aging workforce. Steps include investing in the recruitment and training of young people, increasing the number of apprenticeships and work placements, developing your existing employees and creating training and mentoring programmes to make sure that skills are passed on when workers leave. Some companies are even taking the initiative to work with universities to ensure students have the correct training for their business when they graduate. Whatever measures you are thinking about putting in place, you can call on our expert legal advice so you know where you stand and where you’re going to next.

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