Brexit: The End of Employment Law as we know it?
  • 21st Jun 2016
  • Article written by Louise Purcell
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On Thursday, the Nation will decide whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or not.  At present, it looks like the vote is likely to be close and could go either way. 


Since, much of the UK’s employment law has its origins in Brussels, it is possible that a Brexit could mean a seismic change in UK employment law.  However, whilst no one is quite sure what would happen if the UK voted to leave, it is our view that there is unlikely to be a wholescale reform of employment law, at least, in the medium term


Since most EU employment legislation is passed into law by the UK itself, it will remain on the statute books, unless and until it is repealed by Parliament.  It is unlikely that the present Government will embark on a mission to drastically reduce current employment laws.  The electorate is unlikely to support the abolition of rights which most  employees have come to rely on, as day to day protections in the workplace.  Few would suggest, for example, that the workforce should no longer have the right to time off work, the right to regular breaks or the right not to work for more than 48 hours a week. 


Whilst they have evolved and developed in recent years, discrimination laws have been with us since the 1970’s and have become an established underpinning of modern society in the UK.  We would be surprised to see any significant change to these rights.  Flexible working has very much become a feature of the workplace in recent years and so, some sort of legal framework is unlikely to disappear any time soon.  Another example would be TUPE, which provides important protection for employees in business transfers and service provision changes and such legislation is unlikely to be abolished in the short to medium term.   


The area of greatest uncertainty for UK employers in the event of Brexit, is likely to be the impact on the EU right of freedom of movement within the Economic Area.  It is difficult to imagine that a Brexit vote would result in an immediate expulsion of all  EU workers from the UK, in the short to medium term.  The UK may look to allow current workers settled in the UK to remain here.  The UK may look to agree deals with some European neighbours, to allow reciprocal rights to continue to allow workers freedom of movement for workers between specific European countries.  Ultimately, at the very least, there is likely to be a willingness to accept non-UK workers in shortage professions and skill sets.    


No one really knows what impact a Brexit vote would have on the economy.  Clearly, employment legislation is more likely to be under fire in the event of an economic crises.  However, in the event of a Brexit result, it would be surprising if there weren’t at least some economic turbulence in the short term. 


Any exit from the EU, is unlikely to take effect overnight, in any event.  The UK is likely to work with its European neighbours when working towards a plan of what the UK might look like, post a Brexit.  It seems that at the moment, no one is very clear on the detail of what a Brexit may mean for the UK.  Of course, the UK might vote to remain in the EU.  In which case, it would likely be business as usual for the foreseeable future.


We will have to wait and see what happens.