After a divisive referendum and three muddled years of negotiations, Britain exited the European Union (EU) on 31st January 2020.
Whichever side of the debate you were on, if your organisation has EU premises, and/or you employ large numbers of staff, there are almost certainly far-reaching changes to take account of.
Although Brexit is by no means complete, some questions are now able to be answered. This means UK businesses can start preparing themselves for a future outside of Europe.
What happens now?
A UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement has been drawn up, which details an agreed 'implementation period' that is expected to last until 31st December 2020. During this period, the UK is no longer a member of the EU, yet continues to form part of the single market and customs union.
During the implementation period, the UK and EU will conduct extensive trading negotiations. Until these negotiations are complete, current rules, including free movement of labour, will remain in place and unchanged. Organisations with EU premises may continue to allow staff to travel freely between locations until 1st January 2021.
To continue living in the UK, EU, EEA and Swiss nationals and their families may apply for settled or pre-settled status under the European Settlement Scheme by 30th June 2021. In the meantime, the UK government is expected to detail their final post-Brexit immigration policy in the spring, with the new system introduced from the beginning of 2021.
Note that in the event of the UK and EU failing to agree the terms of their future relationship, a 'No Deal' Brexit will essentially come into force on 1st January 2021, under which the UK will trade with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.
What post-Brexit steps should organisations take?
As we can see, there is much that is still to be decided upon. While it could be tempting to sit back and wait for more detail before taking action in your business, there is a crucial role for people leaders to play in ensuring everybody is focused on the right issues.
There is also likely to be confusion amongst the workforce; particularly EU employees who could be fearing the future.
Policy-wise, while nothing needs to be changed now, it is worth bearing in mind that some employment policies may have to be heavily amended from January 2021. Remaining informed about upcoming immigration system developments will therefore be crucial.
Start communicating with EU staff members
Now is a good time to start individual conversations with your EU staff members, to establish how they feel about the UK leaving the EU, and if they (and their families, if applicable) have already applied for settlement status.
Instead of waiting around in silence, an open, friendly conversation may help to alleviate any fears and clarify next steps. Talking can go a long way towards making everybody feel much more comfortable; answering important questions, and essentially helping your business retain valuable members of staff.
Ensure all managers are properly briefed to hold these conversations – your HR department should be able to offer guidance, or even be present at the discussions if appropriate.
Support employees' Settled Status applications
Consider that you may need to guide or support your EU, EEA or Swiss national employees to apply for settled or pre-settled status (the UK government's application process is outlined here).
These employees may continue to work up to 1st July 2021 without being required to show settlement status. However, those who travel to the UK for work from 1st January 2021 will have to meet the UK's new migration requirements.
If you would like to discuss your organisation's post-Brexit strategy in further detail, or to outline the steps you need to take towards implementation, our team at Viridian HR would be very happy to help. Simply get in touch.