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Employment law guide

Brexit, the EU, and UK employment laws

The following statement was issued by the Law Society following the referendum vote to leave the EU in 2016:

“Our legal rights and obligations are unchanged in the immediate aftermath of the UK's vote to leave the European Union. The UK currently remains a member of the EU and EU law still applies.

The right of free movement of people also remains in effect.

For people who have already exercised their right of free movement - UK citizens living in other member states and other EU nationals living here - the long-term situation post-withdrawal is not yet clear.

There is precedent under international law that if a person has exercised a right under an international treaty, they may continue to enjoy the benefit of that right if the treaty ends. This idea of acquired rights, or vested rights, would suggest that people will not be 'sent home'.

Negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the EU's internal market will determine whether the UK will retain free movement for its own citizens and the citizens of other EU countries once it has fully withdrawn from the EU.

On employment legislation, much of UK statutory employment law has its origins in EU legislation. The implementation of EU legislation into domestic law means that employment law obligations and protections will not automatically fall away upon the UK's eventual withdrawal from the EU.

In theory, following withdrawal from the EU, the employment law protections which are guaranteed by the EU - such as minimum holiday allowances, parental leave and rights in the event of transfers of undertakings - could be removed from domestic legislation.

As for the Working Time Directive (WTD), the UK currently has a partial opt-out, meaning the effects on UK employers are different to those of their EU counterparts.

If, following full withdrawal from the EU, the UK were to become party to the EEA (European Economic Area) Agreement - 'the Norway option' - it would, in practical terms, remain subject to EU rules.

Under the terms of the agreement, EEA members agree to 'approximation of laws' relating to the internal market, meaning that EU labour law directives are effectively adopted. The same is true for health and safety legislation.

Both Norway and Switzerland (which are not EU members) have to observe the principle of free movement of people in return for participation in the EU's internal market. However, countries such as Chile or South Korea, with which the EU has a free trade agreement, do not.

The only way to ensure long-term certainty on these issues, as with many others, is for them to be addressed in the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU.”