The good news was that the UK didn’t fall off a cliff with a ‘no deal’ at the end of the Brexit transition period. The not so good news, is that HR departments have had their hands full supporting their people through a pandemic, and despite early intentions, some are yet to fully implement their Brexit plans.

Brexit at a Strategic / Project Level

Many Brexit project teams got off to a good start doing the easy bit, assessing at a high level what (if any) impact leaving the EU would have on their business. They’ll know Brexit affects them if:

  • They import and/or export goods to/from the EU.
  • They provide or receive services to/from the EU.
  • Their employees travel to/from the EU on company business.
  • They employ EU citizens who live and work in the UK, and vice versa.

For some businesses, the impact of Brexit is great. Do you remember last year’s scramble to find enough UK workers prepared to pick our farmers’ seasonal crops? You can’t have missed seeing in the media the long tailbacks of lorries queuing at Dover as a result of new checks. And we know that the NHS and UK hospitality have historically relied on EU nationals to fill staff shortages…

So you’ve identified that Brexit does affect your business. Whether or not you actually read the Brexit deal agreed at the end of December 2020, you’ll need to comply with its requirements. The extent of what you need to put in place will of course depend on the degree to which the company does business and has relationships with the EU.

Although it makes sense for HR to lead on matters of immigration, we’ll also be partnering with the business to identify wider organisational development opportunities and overcome challenges.

Some Strategic Questions for HR…

Immigration Questions

Free movement of EU, EEA and Swiss nationals to the UK ended on 31/12/20. You’ll need to establish:

  • What you need to put in place to ensure that you can continue to employ new EU citizens in the UK from 1st January 2021 and existing EU employees beyond 30th June 2021.
  • What you need to put in place to ensure that any current UK citizens working in the EU after 31st December 2020 can continue to remain working.

Workforce Planning Questions

  • What is the new process for hiring EU citizens from 1st January 2021?
  • How much will it cost in comparison with current requirements?
  • How will recruitment lead times be impacted by the new requirements?
  • If costs and/or recruitment lead times are likely to increase, will this change my workforce planning strategy? In the future, will we look to hire from within the UK more and if so, how can we develop this talent pipeline?

Provision of Service Questions

  • Are employees required to travel to/from the EU on company business, and if so, what are the different visitor rules?
  • If the requirements are more onerous, or it takes longer for individuals to satisfy them, is there another way to conduct business?
  • Which employees need to have their professional qualifications ‘officially recognised’, and what are the requirements?
  • Do we process and share any personal data with EU countries and if so, is it being shared and processed lawfully?

Infrastructure Questions

  • How does this change our existing infrastructure?
  • Which of our current systems and processes need to change?

Upskilling Questions

  • Are our employees equipped with the information, resources and skills they need to understand and comply with any new requirements?

Brexit at a Divisional/Department Level

At this level, HR will be partnering with managers to understand the practical implications of Brexit on existing processes and practices, facilitating the development of Brexit communications and preparing learning and development interventions for employees at the forefront of ensuring business compliance. They’ll also be supporting existing EU employees in the UK to apply for settled or pre-settled status in good time, and explaining the consequences if this has not been confirmed by 1st July 2021.

Knowledge of Brexit legislation is important here, but HR will be working closely with Risk and Compliance to ensure that any new initiatives, comply with the law.

HR Processing

At a transactional level, HR may still be doing some degree of processing. The extent of such processing will depend on whether work is outsourced (e.g. to third party screening providers) and the capability of the HR information systems in use.

In summary…

Investing time and resources in the creation and roll out of strategies that allow your organisation to adapt and comply with Brexit requirements, will reduce costly risks.

For recruitment alone, an employer’s failure to evidence compliant right to work checks for EU citizens working in the UK, now carries with it the risk:

  • Of a maximum penalty of £20,000 per offence;
  • That the employer’s sponsorship licence will be revoked.

Ending on a brighter note, there has been some good news! Initial fears that employment rights might be eroded as a consequence of Brexit, have been allayed, with the UK and EU making a commitment that neither would create an uneven playing field by weakening or reducing labour and social standards below the levels in place at the end of the transition period, to the extent that it would affect trade or investment. For any policy writers and advisors out there, that suggests no significant changes to H&S standards, fair working conditions, employment standards, information and consultation rights and TUPE. Phew!