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Posted 17 March 2016
by Stephen Jennings

How will the ‘Brexit’ impact on employment law?

On 23 June 2016 UK voters will take to the polls to decide whether Britain is to remain a member of the European Union (EU).

A large number of UK employment laws come from the EU. For example, the right to a daily rest period, the right for employees to take time off work to look after a sick child and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of disability or religion all came from EU legislation.

If the UK votes for a ‘Brexit’ in June, the government could repeal or amend all of the employment laws formulated by the EU. Most commentators are agreed that repealing existing laws would be a deeply unpopular move and unlikely to happen. The government would be more likely to make small changes to existing EU-derived employment laws to make them more appealing to UK businesses.

However there are more complicated issues beyond legislation. In the event of a ‘Brexit’, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would no longer have jurisdiction over the UK courts. Currently, UK courts have to interpret EU-derived law in accordance with ECJ decisions and it is unclear how the ‘Brexit’ would impact on existing EU-based precedent case law.

It is likely that UK courts will want to preserve some sort of legal certainty which could see UK courts continuing to follow established ECJ precedents, although how binding these precedents will be on future decisions remains to be seen.

A further complication relates to the automatic freedom of movement which would no longer exist if the UK left the EU. In theory, EU individuals living and working in the UK and UK individuals doing so in EU Member States would no longer legally be entitled to do so. In practice, the UK will have to give two years’ notice of its intention to leave the EU, and it is assumed that this will allow for a negotiation of the terms of departure which could include an ‘amnesty’ allowing such individuals to remain in their chosen country until they are able to apply for citizenship.

Currently, non-EU members of the European Economic Area (EEA), for example Norway, have adopted most of the EU’s employment laws as part of an economic agreement allowing them to trade with the EU. If this is the future of UK/EU relations, then the effect of a ‘Brexit’ could be minimal on our core employment rights. However if the UK government opts for a complete revocation of EU employment laws, then there could be some very significant changes ahead for both employers and their employees.

For any advice, contact our specialist employment team on 01392 207020 or e-mail employment@tozers.co.uk.

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About the author

Stephen Jennings

Partner

Partner in the litigation department specialising in employment law, he is the relationship manager for many of the firm's employment clients