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UK Votes Leave - What does this mean for Employment Law

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Chattertons’ Employment Law specialists Manisha Chauhan and Danielle Lister consider the impact of the historical Brexit vote on Employment law and workers’ rights.

The Brexit campaign has been the talk of the country for some time now, with a split amongst the general public as to whether to vote to remain or to vote to leave the EU.  Thursday 23 June 2016 was the day when the public spoke, with polling stations across the country being filled by voters who woke up this morning to the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

We have all heard both sides of the campaign and the various arguments as to why we should stay or leave, but what does this decision really mean for us and how will it impact on the employment laws which governs workers’ rights?

Much of the UK’s employment laws stems from the EU, including the working time regulations, discrimination rights, family friendly leave rights and the transfer of undertaking regulations.  In theory, a decision to leave the EU could mean the repeal or amendment of current employment legislation that has been implemented as a result of the UK’s EU membership, although how realistic this suggestion really is remains to be seen.

There are undoubtedly some areas of employment regulations which have proved unpopular with employers, such as restrictions on working time, the 48 hour week limit and the recent and apparently unending line of decisions on holiday pay. In view of this historical event, upon leaving the EU might the UK ultimately decide to make changes to employment law and if so, to what?

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 were originally adopted to implement the European Acquired Rights Directive. The purpose of the Regulations is to safeguard the rights of employees in the event of a transfer of their employment.  Whilst the ability to harmonise employees’ terms and conditions of employment post-transfer may be one change employers might  welcome, any changes to these Regulations will certainly require some careful consideration, given their particular complexities and the significant case law that has developed from these Regulations over time.

The relatively recent Agency Worker Regulations 2011, which requires employers to offer equal terms and benefits to agency workers as are offered to their full time counterparts upon completion of 12 weeks service, has proved hugely unpopular with employers.  As such, many speculate as to whether this might be something the UK might look to change or repeal.

The general consensus is that family friendly rights are unlikely to change given that the UK currently exceeds minimum EU rights considerably and indeed, family friendly rights that now exist are considered by most UK employees and Trade Unions to be an absolute baseline of modern day employment.

The UK’s decision to depart from the EU will no doubt have a significant impact on case law given that Courts and Tribunals are currently bound to follow the rulings of the European Court of Justice.  Leaving the EU will return ultimate sovereignty to the UK courts.  It is expected that previous decisions from the ECJ will continue to be followed from UK courts initially, but no doubt a new line of case law will develop as the UK courts preside over their own affairs, rather than following decisions of ECJ.  This will spell a very significant change for both Employment law but the UK legal system in general, although this is much more likely to be a slow and steady change as the case law develops over time, rather than anything immediate and particularly radical.

Let us not forget that separating from the EU is not something which will happen overnight. The UK is required to provide a minimum of two years notice and during this period, a significant number of negotiations and decisions will have to be taken, many of which could significantly affect UK employment law and workers’ rights.

Many might speculate as to how this historic decision will affect employment law, but the truth is that at this present time, no-one really knows for definite and only time will tell.  What does seem certain is that there will be significant changes to the UK’s legal system as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and which will undoubtedly have an effect on UK employment law and workers’ right.  However, it would seem most likely that any changes to employment law as a result of an EU exit will be gradual and piecemeal rather than sudden and drastic.