2nd August 2016
In the wake of the Brexit vote, HR departments across the UK are facing a long period of uncertainty, and many unanswered questions. Although a decision has been taken that Britain will leave the EU, at present there is no clear timetable and no certainty about exactly what form Brexit will take.As a leading provider of HR payroll solutions, IRIS FMP closely monitors all issues affecting HR and employment. Here we look at how HR teams can reassure staff, and discuss what preparations businesses should be making at this stage for life outside the EU.
The most important step for most organisations is communicating to staff what is happening. This can help to reassure people and ensure they do not need to rely on often conflicting rumours. However, it is important to keep to the facts, so staff can be confident what they have been told is correct.
There are a number of reasons for concern in the workplace, with employees from the EU being worried about whether they will have to leave in the future. The same worry also applies to any UK employees who may be working in your offices in other European countries. The Home Office recently issued a reassuring statement about this, saying it “fully expects” the legal status of both these groups to be protected, but many people will still be anxious until a legal framework is in place.
Other employees will also have anxieties about the implications of Brexit. For instance, in some international organisations, staff may be wondering whether the management will take a decision to relocate to another country. They could also fear that, if the UK’s departure leads to economic problems, this will result in job losses or recruitment freezes, leading to added pressure on remaining employees.
Of course it is not possible for companies to have answers to all of these questions, because so much is up in the air at the moment. But it is helpful to communicate clearly and consistently with staff, letting them know that you will inform them as soon as you have any definite information. This needs to be an ongoing process, not just occasional messages.
Holding workplace Q&A sessions is one way to ensure two-way communication. Also, in addition to general corporate communications, it will help if HR teams can discuss individuals’ concerns with them. Another helpful move is to give line managers some training, so they know how to discuss the issue of Brexit with team members and at what point to involve HR.
At present, the UK is still part of the EU and it is likely this will continue to be the case for some time. Once Article 50 is triggered, there is a 2-year period for negotiation before the UK leaves, but in practice the whole Brexit process could take longer.
Looking ahead, there are many possibilities for our future relationship with Europe. One way forward could be an agreement similar to the EU’s deal with Norway, where in practice free movement and EU employment laws apply. But there could also be a different arrangement with restrictions on free movement.
EU nationals still have exactly the same rights to live and work in the UK at present as they did before the referendum. However, many will want to act now to safeguard their position in the future. Those who have been here for 5 years or longer can apply for a permanent residence document, while people with a shorter period of qualifying residence can apply for a registration certificate. Although there is no requirement to apply for these certificates, legal experts say it may be worthwhile to do so.
EU nationals who have lived in the UK for 6 years or more and have a permanent residence document can apply to become naturalised British citizens, but should check on whether they will be able to retain dual nationality. HR teams will need to be prepared to inform and advise staff who are considering taking any of these steps.
Planning for the Future
As the Government launches a new department for Brexit, many companies are also setting up their own “task force” to oversee preparations. This can look at issues such as the numbers of EU nationals you employ and which departments they are in. Technology solutions such as our web hr software, Amity, allow you to easily access data about staff in different areas of the business.
Businesses will need to prepare now to fill any skills shortages which may occur either if EU staff members leave or if it becomes harder to recruit from abroad. This could involve looking in detail at your recruitment strategy and also at your policies to retain your key staff.
Employment lawyers are advising the inclusion of clauses regarding the right to work in the UK within job offers and contracts for any new employees. However, companies must not discriminate against EU nationals in any way when recruiting or promoting at the current time; taking this action while the existing rules are in place would be discriminatory. IRIS FMP’s Amity and Teamspirit HR software modules both enable full equality reporting, guarding against any danger of non-compliance.
During this long period of preparation for Brexit, nobody is quite sure what will happen next. This means it is important to keep abreast of developments and ensure your teams are ready to respond to future events.
Using IRIS FMP’s software can help HR staff to streamline everyday processes, so they can concentrate on strategic priorities such as preparing for Brexit. If you would like more information on IRIS FMP Amity and IRIS FMP Teamspirit HR payroll solutions, follow the links to download our product brochures.