The Government’s recent decision to publish a series of papers outlining what organisations should do in the event of a “no deal” Brexit has attracted a good deal of publicity and comment. But one that didn’t get much media attention was on “Workplace rights”.
The reason it didn’t is that there will be almost no change to employment law as a result of the UK leaving the European Union. Existing EU laws and regulations are now all incorporated into UK law (if they weren’t already) as a result of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018.
The only two slight changes – which will only affect a very small number of employers and employees – are that if there is no deal, UK based workers will no longer have the right to request that their employer sets up a European Works Council (something which only applies if the employer operates in two or more EU countries); and that UK employees who work in an EU country will no longer be protected by the EU’s Insolvency Directive if their employer becomes insolvent.
However, one area of employment law that may become important in the event of “No Deal” – particularly if there are problems in certain sectors – is the right to lay off staff temporarily. As an employer, you can request staff not to attend work at any point, but you can only do so without paying them* if you have an explicit clause in your employment contract.
Only a minority of companies include such a clause these days, since they are rarely if ever needed, and also because those that do have fluctuating demands tend to use “zero hour” contracts or other types of contingent arrangement.
But consider this scenario. Your company makes machines. Currently, you use widgets manufactured in Germany and imported by truck. In the event of a No Deal Brexit, widget imports are delayed, perhaps for a matter of weeks, while new customs arrangements are resolved. You’ve got nothing for your workforce to do but without a lay off clause you’ll need to continue paying them. Could your business survive?
So, you may want to change your employment contracts to incorporate an appropriately worded clause – contact us if you wish to do this.
But before you do, think about these three points
- Changing contracts – even by agreement – is a time-consuming process.
- If some or all of your staff won’t accept the change, do you really want to go through the whole process of dismissing them and re-engaging them for something that might not happen?
- Even if staff do accept the change, it’s likely to affect their morale and commitment. Do the benefits of a lay-off clause outweigh the possible loss of productivity, increased absence or higher turnover?
The right to impose an unpaid lay-off may be a necessary step for your business – but think about it holistically, not simply financially.
(*you may have to pay a small “guarantee payment” for the first 5 days of any lay-off period)