Preparing for Brexit amid plans to make free movement a thing of the past

Research from the Federation of Small Businesses found that 59 per cent of SME bosses with EU workers preparing for Brexit are worried about how it will impact their ability to access people with the right skills. While nothing is certain given how fresh the election result is, the Conservatives intend to make free movement a thing of the past.

European Economic Area (EEA) nationals will become subject to an immigration regime under UK law – and this is a concern for many businesses. There are, however, some sensible measures businesses can take in preparing for Brexit, despite the current unknowns.

Carry out an audit of the workforce

A good starting point is to conduct a workforce audit to establish which employees are EEA nationals in the UK or British nationals in the EEA. The audit data collected should include their nationality (including dual nationality); location; job role; start date with the organisation in the UK or other EEA country; contact details; and length of residence in the UK or other EEA country.

Use employee data to explore how Brexit could impact the workforce

Once a company is satisfied it holds reliable employee data, it can use it to assess the potential impact of Brexit. As well as identifying how many employees are likely to be affected by changes to the immigration rules, this will also pinpoint areas of the business or jobs that might be hit harder than others.

With this insight, companies can develop a contingency strategy to safeguard against a situation where they are unable to recruit certain roles post-Brexit. For example, they might need to consider a new system of apprenticeships to ensure a plentiful supply of the skills needed or change their recruitment strategy to attract more candidates from the local labour market.

Communicate with the workforce

Effective communication with employees is vital and, as well as providing information on the potential impact of Brexit, companies should also seek to reassure those who may be feeling unsettled. The communication strategy needs to be considered carefully to ensure it doesn’t create panic or alarm, especially where the company is carrying out an audit of its workforce.

Companies may find that an “all-staff” communication is appropriate in the first instance. This could be used to reiterate the value of EEA workers to the organisation as well as to provide reassurance that the company is monitoring developments.

This could be followed by targeted communication to those whose right to work in their current location might be affected by Brexit. This could include an explanation of the options open to them to protect their status, plus details of any assistance and support the organisation is providing.

Understand the options for EEA workers

While the rights for EEA workers already working in the UK are uncertain, there are options open to them to protect their immigration status. These are applying for a registration certificate, a permanent residence card or naturalisation. Companies need to ensure they understand the processes and eligibility requirements for each level of protection, and the potential effects on individuals’ rights post-Brexit, when deciding whether to offer assistance to their staff to pursue these options.

Review policies and documents

Now is also an ideal time for companies to review their processes, policies and documents and identify any that may need to be amended to reflect the position of EEA nationals post-Brexit.

While greater certainty is needed about the rules before any amendments can be made, identifying where the right to work is a consideration (such as in recruitment and onboarding processes), and what updates may be required, is likely to be a useful exercise.

Jo Stubbs is head of content at XpertHR, a comprehensive online source of legal compliance, good practice and benchmarking information for HR and employers. This includes practical guidance on preparing for Brexit, written by experts in the field.

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