Brexit and UK Employment Law

The EU referendum on 23 June 2016 could potentially have a great impact on UK employment law.

Many aspects of UK employment law have derived from the EU and this has affected workers’ rights across the economy.

  • Below are some of the areas of UK employment law which have derived from the EU:
  • Working time and annual holidays;
  • Rights for women (such as equal pay);
  • Family friendly policies (such as pregnant workers and parental leave);
  • Anti-discrimination legislation (such as equal treatment);
  • Collective redundancies and TUPE;
  • European Works Councils; and
  • Information and consultation.

The Working Time Directive is one of the most high-profile elements of EU-derived law affecting employment before it was transported into UK law. Prior to its implementation, UK workers did not have a statutory right to paid annual holiday. The Directive ensured that all workers should be entitled to at least 20 days of paid annual holiday, but the UK government has since increased this entitlement to 28 days including bank holidays.

One of the other most important areas of employment rights affected by European legislation is the equal treatment right. This includes equal treatment for part-time workers, those on fixed-term contracts and temporary agency workers in terms of pay and basic conditions of employment. It is likely that many UK workers who are agency workers or who work part-time in the public sector are directly affected by this legislation from the EU.

What would happen if the vote was in favour of the UK leaving the EU?

A vote to leave the EU could allow the review or repeal of legislation that came out of EU directives, although this would depend on the nature of any future relationship between the EU and the UK.

Many employees working in the public sector are against the UK leaving the EU as they would lose their right to directly enforce EU directives against their employers, which sometimes allow them to gain rights which go beyond national legislation for example in the areas of collective redundancies and discrimination.

Whilst a UK government would be unlikely to remove protections in the workplace against discrimination, or equal pay, it would have a free hand to amend these and other laws without fear of legal proceedings being brought by the European Commission.

Even where legislation remains un-amended following Brexit, it may be applied differently by our courts which sometimes struggle to interpret national legislation in line with European directives.

Another point which remains unclear is the extent upon which existing cases, decided by reference to European legislation, will remain binding precedents on future UK cases.

In light of the above, there are others who have argued that very little would change following Brexit, as EU-derived law is so embedded in UK law that it would be too complex to unpick. Therefore, what happens to UK employment law will depend upon how the government tries to remove itself from the EU. If the UK was to repeal all EU-derived legislation, both employers and employees would face a vast amount of legal changes and it may easier to maintain the existing state of the EU derived legislation and address particular laws individually over time.

A definitive statement relating to the effects of UK employment law following Brexit has not yet been announced by the government, although it remains to be seen how the government will tackle the changes required following a potential ‘leave’ vote.

If you have any questions arising from this article or would like further information on Brexit and UK employment law, please get in touch with a member of our Employment team