What does Brexit mean for employment law?

7th July 2016

In theory, it would be open to the Government to repeal or review all of the UK laws which emanate from Europe. In reality, this is highly unlikely. Much of the EU legislation governing employment was already in place in the UK, such as equal pay, race and disability discrimination and maternity leave. In some areas, UK employment law goes further than that required by EU legislation. For example, the EU Working Time Directive dictates that full time workers are entitled to receive 20 days' paid annual leave, whereas the UK statutory minimum is 28 days. The recent introduction of shared parental leave and pay and the right to request flexible working are purely domestic rights with no EU influence whatsoever. Therefore it is not expected that the Government will seek to repeal such laws.


Any proposal to repeal fundamental employment rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of a protected characteristic, would undoubtedly result in unrest and controversy. It is difficult to envisage a situation where employers would argue that they should be allowed to do so in any event. That aside, it would be very difficult to separate the rights engrained into UK law which come from Europe from those that are domestic, and would require new legislation.


It is also likely that the UK will continue to observe EU employment laws to some extent if it wishes to preserve a relationship with the EU. In terms of negotiating any future trading agreement for example, the UK will have to be able to show that it adheres to minimum standards in relation to employment law.


In summary, much of what we have today is unlikely to change on the back of a Brexit.


Although it is difficult to predict how the UK's employment laws will be affected by a Brexit, it is unlikely that in the short term the Government will tear up all those laws which are affected by EU Law. In any event, the UK has to give 2 years' notice of the intention to leave the EU, allowing time to determine what laws will stay and what will go.


Employers are unlikely to have to deal with an avalanche of changes. It is more likely that the Government will take a piecemeal approach to introducing changes. It seems unlikely that UK employment law will be transformed in significant ways immediately, and the status quo is expected to remain in the short term in the event of a Brexit vote.


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