Prime minister Theresa May has announced that all EU nationals who have been lawfully resident in the UK for at least five years will be able to apply for ‘settled status’ after Brexit and be able to bring over spouses and children.
She hopes such plans will provide reassurance and certainty to the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK, who she referred to as an “integral part of the economic and cultural fabric” of the country. However, any deal on their future legal status and rights must be mutual and also give certainty to the 1.2 million British expats living on the continent after the UK leaves the EU.
Despite this update being a step in the right direction, concerns will be raised over the stipulation that EU migrants could be stripped of their settled status if they leave the country for just two years. In addition, if the cut-off date for entitlement to remain is set before the actual date of Brexit, it would disadvantage those who have come to the UK in the last year.
It is therefore important for employers to keep their employees updated on the progress of these new plans and keep the lines of communication open on the potential impact and support available. Employers should ensure they understand the implications, so as not to mislead employees, and should also offer as much assistance with applications as possible.
The uncertainty Brexit has generated can be daunting for both businesses and their staff. It is important that employers understand their duty to ease the minds of their employees, and the simple steps they can take to ensure they stay motivated through the uncertainty ahead.
1. Be honest and informative
It is important that you are honest with your employees and encourage them to speak openly about their concerns. Keeping things bottled up can lead to frustration, increased anxiety and stress, and will ultimately hinder performance levels. Call a full team meeting with every member of staff to talk them through the changes your business might face. By adopting a proactive approach, employees will feel more reassured and secure in their positions, which will help them remain productive, engaged and loyal to the company.
EU workers will be feeling particularly vulnerable following the Brexit vote. You should aim to provide additional support measures to these employees, including information on residency, registration and any other rights.
2. Keep it simple
One thing you should avoid is over-complicating the changes by introducing too many new processes and inundating employees with information on them. By conducting simple question and answer sessions, issues will become clearer and you will avoid disengagement from your employees. Consider publishing regular briefings so that staff always feel in in the loop.
3. Provide training for managers
Management should be fully prepared to respond to any questions from concerned employees. It is crucial that all managers provide the same information and remain consistent in their approach. Sticking to the facts is key, and updating your management team on changes will help them respond to questions or concerns.
4. Have a plan
Not having a coherent plan for your business will only exacerbate the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of Brexit. This is especially true for businesses that have expanded to export overseas. If you will no longer be exporting when Britain leaves the EU, you may not need as many employees, leading to redundancies. At the very least, staff will want to know that you have a plan to approach new markets to cover any loss from your current agreements with EU countries. Additionally, if your company receives EU funding (as so many do) employees will want to be reassured that this will be replaced with an alternative so that they still get paid at the end of the month.
5. Offer counselling
Counselling is a viable way to assist concerned workers. This is especially the case for SMEs, which can more effectively have one-to-ones with their employees. A counselling scheme for these types of businesses will allow employees a safe platform to express their concerns in a way that can be treated sympathetically and professionally.
Emma Gross is a solicitor in the employment team at SA Law