Brexit – thoughts for employers in the evolving aftermath

What is the development?

As we all know, the UK has voted to leave the European Union (EU).

There are no immediate legal changes, but there are certainly issues arising day-to-day as workplaces react in different ways.

The initial HR focus related to foreign nationals living and working in the UK and their future immigration status, including what employers and individuals might do now to protect their right to continue working in the UK post Brexit.

However, as the situation evolves we have heard of other workplace difficulties:
–  disputes between employees at work and their impact on morale;
–  suggestions by fellow workers that foreign nationals should leave;
–  customer disputes in the workplace adversely affecting employees; and
–  social media exchanges outside work.

Each situation will be different, but some general principles are worth keeping in mind.

What does this mean in practice for employers? 

Under the Equality Act, the protected characteristic “religion or belief” extends to philosophical beliefs that may include strongly held political beliefs.

A worker having a short-term view about the referendum decision may not qualify for protection (as it needs to be a genuinely held belief). However, a worker who holds very strong beliefs about membership of the EU may be able to claim protection against discrimination under the Equality Act.

Workers may also rely on protection against race discrimination, where they personally suffer some adverse effect as a result of their race, nationality or ethnic origin.

Employers should also remember that there is no qualifying period to bring a discrimination claim and the two year qualifying rule for unfair dismissal does not apply where the reason for dismissal relates to the employee’s “political opinions or affiliation”.  So, whatever an employee’ length of service, any disputes of this nature should be managed carefully and fairly.

If there is a concern about these arguments continuing and risking discrimination and/or damage to the business’ reputation, employers may want to send a clear message to all staff to clarify what types of behaviour are unacceptable – whether that behaviour is in person or through technology (including on social media).

Our comment

We are at the beginning of a long road and we anticipate more incidents of workplace disputes arising from varying political views – strength of feelings continue on both sides of the 48/52 divide. Being alert to the potential workplace difficulties this can trigger and how it could lead to exposure for your business is a sensible first step.