The impact of a Brexit on UK employment law

On 23 June 2016 the nation will vote on whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EU. If the UK’s exit from the EU (the Brexit) goes ahead, there will predictably be a number of significant changes across UK. One area likely to be affected by these changes is employment law.

While a number of key employment rights in the UK do originate from the EU this doesn’t necessarily mean that these rights will be lost in the event of a Brexit.

One area of particular concern for both employers and employees is how an exit would impact on the free movement of workers throughout the EU.

If the UK was to leave the EU, in theory UK nationals living and working in EU countries and EU nationals living and working in the UK would lose their automatic right to free movement. In reality it is unlikely that workers would be asked to return to their home country immediately. It has been suggested that in the short term the British Government might agree to an amnesty with the EU member states.

Chris Cook, SA Law
Chris Cook

The Data Protection Act 1998 currently governs the processing of personal data in the UK. Retaining adequate data protection provisions in the event of a Brexit will be crucial for the UK to enable it to continue trading with the EU countries.

In particular, the UK will need to be able to demonstrate compliance when transferring personal data between the UK and EU member states. It will also need to show compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation which is due to come into force in 2018.

Protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and the right to paid holiday, specified breaks and rest periods under the Working Time Regulations are some of the key employment rights derived from EU law and the Government could in theory choose to repeal these rights in the event of an exit.

While a complete repeal is highly unlikely a number of key changes have been suggested including the reintroduction of the cap on compensation awarded in discrimination claims, amendments to the right for employees to accrue annual leave during sickness absence and the cap on the 48 hour working week. While a Brexit could bring about considerable changes to UK employment law, the UK’s desire to retain an ongoing trade relationship with the EU is in reality likely to restrict any significant changes that the UK might have in mind.

Chris Cook is a partner and head of the employment team at SA Law