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How would a Brexit affect your employment rights?

Do you enjoy statutory paid leave or the ability to take time off work to look after a sick child?

Do you benefit from flexible working arrangements in a workplace free from discrimination based on your age, religion or sexual orientation? Then you have the EU to thank for many of the employment rights you currently enjoy.

But with the EU referendum looming and conflicting claims on the economic future of the UK being made by both sides, just how would a Brexit affect your employment rights?

Not all employment rights stem from EU directives. Laws relating to equal pay, race discrimination in the workplace and unfair dismissal all existed before Britain’s EU membership. Other rights relating to shared parental and maternity leave go far beyond the minimum requirements laid down by EU directives. However, the EU framework of workplace rights and obligations are now firmly embedded in UK law.

If Vote Leave carry the day on June 23, there is unlikely to be any immediate change to existing UK employment rights. Instead there would follow a lengthy period of renegotiation, expected to last at least two years, which would present the UK with a number of options before it finally leaves the EU.

One is to follow the Norwegian model and choose to remain in the European Economic Area and continue to be bound by EU employment law. Should the UK choose to remain outside the EEA but maintain access to the EU Single Market, then continued adherence to EU employment regulations including the free movement of people is likely to be part of any deal. Whatever the scenario, it seems probable that the UK will be expected to maintain existing EU employment legislation as a condition for favourable trading agreements.

Of course there is no precedent for what employment rights will look like should the UK leave the EU. And current EU directives are generally applied with a light touch approach. For example, UK employers already enjoy an opt-out from the working time directive. One possible complication may be the application of employment legislation post-Brexit and how binding EU legislation may continue to prove.

But there are already clear indications that a post-Brexit Government will look to repeal two key EU directives: those on the 48 hour working week and rights for agency workers. Both are deeply unpopular with employers and have long been perceived as damaging to the UK economy. There is expected to be an impact on TUPE and a compensation cap in discrimination cases. But existing good workplace practices around discrimination and shared parental and maternity leave are unlikely to be affected. Home-grown policies like the national minimum wage and the recently introduced National Living Wage should remain on the statute books.

The process of unravelling the UK’s membership of the EU would be a long and complicated one. And whilst the EU remains the UK’s single biggest export market, the reality is likely to be that the UK will remain bound by existing EU workplace directives.

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