Concern over the possible effects of Brexit on UK employment law has ebbed and flowed since last year’s referendum; however, now that Article 50 has been invoked, businesses are starting to formulate their views with enhanced clarity.
Given that many UK employment rights originate from EU parent legislation, it might have been unsurprising if businesses had come out in wholehearted support of change; after all, the EU has faced repeated accusations of tending to favour workers over business. The results of a recent survey conducted by GQ Employment Law suggest, however, that popular rhetoric is not always a good indicator of any real desire for change.
Only five per cent of respondents to the survey said they are hoping for ‘dramatic’ post-Brexit shifts to employment laws. The 65 per cent that are looking for ‘some change’ is perhaps a less surprising figure; even so, anyone who has been taking the press coverage even slightly too literally might be startled by the 30 per cent that do not want employment laws to alter at all.
In many ways, these figures make sense – stability is hugely important to most businesses. Whatever your personal views on the matter, leaving the European Union promises to be a seismic shift of the sort not seen since the second world war. Understandably, before calling for further changes, many businesses will want to see how the land lies after Brexit.
Such changes that are considered potentially desirable tend to relate to issues that have proved contentious for many years, with sick leave one example. The legislation allowing employees on long-term sick leave to roll over accrued annual leave into the next leave year is perennially unpopular, with over 70 per cent of the respondents to GQ’s survey wanting to see changes to this area. While some of these respondents may be influenced by perceived unfairness, others may be struggling under the associated administrative costs.
The discrimination laws are another area the survey indicates could be ripe for change. Uncapped discrimination and equal pay claims are the main targets, with some employers feeling held to ransom by aggrieved employees; however, while some employees undoubtedly do use the threat of uncapped damages to force an employer to reach a settlement, the extent of the problem is unclear and, at this time, largely unverifiable.
Although Brexit might, in theory, result in some EU-driven UK employment laws being rolled back, this is unlikely – at least in the short term. Negotiators and government alike are expected to have other concerns, ensuring that businesses will retain the employment law status quo for some time to come.
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