Brexit For Employers – Are You Prepared For The Transition Period?

In October 2019, a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was, after much negotiation, struck with the EU. That Withdrawal Agreement – and Britain departing the European Union later today, January 31st 2020 – means employers who are employing EU nationals need to get plans in place if they have not already done so.

Currently, the transition period for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will run until the end of 2020 and so freedom of movement will remain in place until that time. During that time, of course, further negotiations between the British government and EU members will take place in the hope of striking a deal.

This means there is still a lot of uncertainty for you as an employer, especially if you have EU nationals in your employment or you are part of a company or organisation that has trading ties with businesses in EU countries.

Brexit Concerns for Employers

First of all, why do companies choose to invest in the employment of overseas workers? Companies have employed foreign workers from EU countries for various reasons.

Overseas workers are valued because they can sometimes fill skills gaps within your sector. They can bring unique knowledge to your organisation and can also offer an alternative way of tackling challenges your organisation may face.

Employing staff from other EU countries can also give you access to a whole new customer base. Your EU members of staff will likely be bilingual (at least), meaning you can communicate with potential customers who may not have been accessible previously. Bilingual and multilingual staff can be a valuable asset for your business.

Depending on the type of company you are a part of, you could have also relied on workers coming from EU countries to take up employment in entry-level, manual roles that have been traditionally difficult to fill.

According to this article in Recruiter, legal experts have said that one of the main concerns for employers in the future is the increased costs that could be involved with recruiting talent from the EU in the future and how they go about securing talent from the EU from 2021 onwards.

The article states that Melanie Stancliffe, partner at Cripps Pemberton Greenish, says:

“Post 31 December 2020, how are (employers) going to get the people that they need into the country?”

“When they start thinking about it, the secondary thing is going to be taking out visas and sponsor licences so that they can get the talent in but also the additional cost. You’ve got the additional cost of getting that immigration approval and you’ve got additional cost because you’ve got individuals who are coming in and paying UK National Insurance. Before, you might have left them for a year or so – 12 months usually – in their French or Spanish or Italian or Portuguese social security system.”

Perhaps of some hope for employers, however, is if the government scraps the salary floor for skilled workers from overseas. Skilled workers from non EEA countries who are working in Britain with Tier 2 visas need to be earning at least £30,000 per year (£20,800 for skilled workers under the age of 26).

These salaries are not feasible for employers looking to employ overseas workers in unskilled roles. Just because Britain will no longer be part of the EU after the end of 2020 doesn’t mean the need for overseas workers will disappear.

According to this article in HR Magazine, once Britain comes out of the transition period and freedom of movement ends, the British government has said it will introduce a points based system. Points will be allocated for age, work experience, skills and qualifications and salaries will then be calculated accordingly.

A points system could prove valuable for SMEs and companies looking to employ workers in roles that are traditionally difficult to fill.

Could Brexit Affect Business Growth In The UK?

Many employers fear Brexit and the end of free movement could affect business growth in the future because they are going to find it increasingly difficult to combat existing skills shortages and to recruit the necessary numbers of staff to fill those difficult to fill roles.

The fear is that whilst overseas workers will of course still be able to apply for work in British workplaces – albeit with more paperwork involved in the future – EU nationals who may have applied for roles in the past might not do so now. This is indeed due to that extra bureaucracy for both parties.

As for your existing overseas workers from EU countries, depending on their circumstances, some may be getting their paperwork in order so that they can remain in Britain and continue to work, legally. Others may be deciding to move on, either back to their home country or to work in another EU member country. This could leave you with a staff shortage and the need for a recruitment drive.

According to some reports, over half of UK employers currently employ citizens from EU countries in both skilled and unskilled roles. As Britain is now in a transition period until the end of 2020, the rights of those workers will change and steps must be taken to make sure those workers are working for you legally.

Until now, many employers have not had measures in place to deal with this situation and are therefore unprepared for what they need to do with regards to their EU workers. This is not surprising in a situation where there has been so much uncertainty and, even during 2020, depending on the result of negotiations, the situation for employers and workers could change again.

Having said all that, whatever the situation, as an employer, if you haven’t begun to already, now is the time to take action. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you and your EU workers are prepared…

Tips For Employers During The Transition Period

Some of your staff from EEA countries may have already decided to take their leave as a result of Britain leaving the EU.

They may prefer to go back to their own country or elsewhere in the EU rather than go through the paperwork – and perhaps the stress – to remain in employment in the UK, legally.

There is clearly much for the Home Office Immigration Service to do in processing the applications of millions of EEA workers and, where individuals have been turned down, some of these cases have become high profile cases in the international press.

With that in mind, here are some practical tips and steps you can take during the transition period that can give you and your staff from EEA countries some piece of mind.

  • Make sure you connect regularly with your EEA workers and make sure they feel valued by you and the rest of your workforce. Be present as an employer and create a culture in your company where all staff feel valued. With the strong feelings and division created by Brexit, it is important to have unity in your workplace where your EEA workers still feel they are an important part of the team by you and your staff.
  • Make sure your staff from EU countries are aware of the transition period until December 2020. Put measures in place to make sure they have registered their status under the Settlement Scheme, allowing them to stay. They have until 30th June 2021 (if they are not already holders of British nationality).
  • Some of your EU workers might have called Britain home for decades. Be mindful that this is a time of upheaval and uncertainty for those applying for permanent residency. Whilst you need to be keeping yourself on top of legal requirements for your foreign workers, keep in mind that these members of staff could be under a great deal of stress at the moment. Keep your door open so that staff feel they can come to you to go through any issues or problems.
  • Depending on the size of your company, you might have an HR team to deal with Brexit issues. Some companies are even employing teams purely to deal with Brexit legalities and practicalities for their company.
  • It is going to be the responsibility of your HR managers to make sure the company is working within the law when it comes to overseas workers. It is obviously important that your company does everything possible to make sure that it is not doing anything illegal with regards to foreign workers. Any fines incurred can harm finances, particularly for smaller companies, and it is obviously not good for business if you find yourself with a reputation for acting illegally.
  • Keep yourself aware of current developments and make sure you update your EU workers of these developments so that you are all on the same page. Things could happen fast over the coming months.
  • If you have relied on EU workers in your company and they are very much a part of your recruitment strategy, recruit your EU workers now so that they enter the country before the end of 2020. This will reduce costs and immigration paperwork.
  • During the transition period Britain is still following EU employment law. Whilst there is no concrete information as to what future employment law may look like in the coming years, some lawyers think there could be a few tweaks.
  • Look at your current recruitment policy and your job vacancy ads. Who are those job ads appealing to? You could have a rethink with regards to your recruitment and try to attract applicants that you could have missed out on previously. This could reduce your need to rely on so many overseas workers.
  • If you have traditionally hard to fill roles where you have relied on EU workers, get creative and think of ways to attract people to those roles. There are lots of tips out there for filling those hard to fill roles.
  • Train and develop existing staff. Can your existing staff take on roles that you have recruited new staff for in the past?

There is still lots of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but as 2020 unfolds, we can hope for more certainty and clear guidelines. A government White Paper is expected in March 2020 which should offer more clarity for employers with regards to employing EEA citizens.